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Harriett Jane Olson

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May/June response: Responsively Yours

Responsively Yours: Transforming Through Learning

by Harriett Jane Olson

I just love learning — most of the time, that is. I love the feeling that I get when I encounter a new idea, or a more foundational idea, or a broader window on a familiar historical setting. When this happens, I sometimes say, “All my little synapses are firing.”

As an adult, I have come to realize that I learn in different ways. I used to think that I learned in a linear way — lectures, reading, report-writing, preparing arguments to support a position, etc. Even now, after hours on Zoom every week, I still attend an occasional lecture or hear papers presented and discussed. What I’ve come to realize is that I approach many of these traditional learning modes in a non-linear way. I’ll be captivated by a metaphor or image or be struck by something that doesn’t fit what I think I already know. I’ll end up with a new narrative, a new way of putting together data.

These are strategies for meaning-making — building on things I have learned and experienced myself to better understand how somebody different might understand the same learnings and experiences.

I also learn (sometimes in a very powerful way) from pictures, poetry, music, tactile experience and bodily movement. We take in information and build meaning constantly, and many of the activities and efforts to express learnings and feelings in unfamiliar ways are incredibly powerful.

Mission u

Those of you who are longtime Mission u participants know that all of this is evident in the way United Women in Faith studies and events come together. The staff and contributors who prepare for these powerful learning settings call on us to be agile learners — trying learning styles and activities that are not our favorite or that we do not think we have the skills to do. Even if the result is imperfect, the act of creating something reinforces connections.

I don’t gravitate to creating something artistic, but still I love learning — most of the time. One of the other ways we learn is to encounter ideas that challenge us, or irritate us, or are presented as a critique of what we think we know. I’ve circled the sun enough to know that when my inner monologue sounds like “but, but, but” or “wait, that’s not right,” it’s usually time to button up and listen.

Now, as I said, one of the ways I learn is by constructing an argument and engaging with others to experience my own thoughts, to test them and to see if I’ve made a wrong turn. However, my doing this in real time while I am still processing new information isn’t always the best way for other people to learn or for a facilitator to move a group through an exercise. So I’ve learned to look for internal resistance to new information and to pay attention. Just because I’m an adult and I come with rich experience doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not missing something important. Internal resistance can be a signal of just that.

Of course, what I learn in this way doesn’t always turn my world upside-down immediately, but if it continues to niggle in my brain for a while, it just might. Our 2022 mission curricula on Luke 13 and our Mission u events are great ways to dare to turn your world upside-down or at least niggle your brain as you grow closer to your community and closer to God.

What an exciting season of Mission u we have ahead of us — I can hardly wait!

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Women in Faith

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