It's OK to be ignorant

One of my earliest coaches told me to never be satisfied when I come up with “the answer” but rather to continue to “inquire.” This was great advice. Martin Luther King once said: “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking.  There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.  Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” In other words, when confronted with a problem or issue, don’t rush to find the “answer,” be willing to hang out in the question and see what evolves.

With this in mind, I have continued to hang out in the issue I have written about the last two weeks, about people being ignorant and the appearance that people seem to be committed to staying ignorant, and I continue to see more in this than first meets the eye.

Last week I said that part of the problem is that people don’t want to take responsibility for everything in their lives, and I still believe that is mostly true. But here’s something else I’ve seen: people don’t want to admit that their ignorant. People think that somehow they’re supposed to know everything and if you don’t know about something, you must be stupid or something. And, of course, nobody wants to be stupid. So let me develop this line of reasoning a bit more and you tell me what you think.

First, do you realize you’re ignorant? How does it feel when I say that? Are you offended, put off? But seriously, what do you know about quantum physics, microbiology, intergalactic travel, brain surgery, the manufacture of computer chips, etc,? If you’re like me, likely nothing. So what each of us knows is like a grain of sand on a beach, a tiny fraction of what there is ultimately to know.

So, we’re ignorant. That’s a fact. But we don’t come to grips with that fact. Somehow, we think it’s insulting to be called or appear ignorant. And why is that? Because our egos tell us, as I have discussed many times before, that we’re not good enough. And we buy into it. For over 40 years of my life, I bought into it and thought I wasn’t very smart. Even though I graduated engineering school and in the top 10% of my law school class, I still thought that every lawyer out there was obviously smarter than me. Can you relate?

So, because WE think we’re not really very smart, the last thing we want is for anyone else to think we’re not very smart. So in one way or the other, most people live their lives trying to avoid the fact that they’re ignorant and the way we do that is to act and maybe even ultimately believe that we know all there is to know.

The result, I think, is that we don’t have an open mind. We’re not curious. How can you be curious if you’re going around masquerading that you already know everything. So we can be surrounded by really useful information bombarding us with facts that could really help is in many ways, but we’re not open to letting them in. From the outside, it looks like we’re ignorant and committed to staying that way. What may be more accurate is that we just don’t have an open mind.

So here are my recommendations: First, come to grips with the fact that you’re ignorant! There’s nothing shameful or belittling in that reality. We all just know what we know, what we know is like a grain of sand on the beach of what we could know, and that’s just what is. In fact, have some fun with being ignorant. Start saying things like “I don’t know.” Admit it. It will give others the freedom to admit that they also don’t know.

Then, once you’re at peace with how much you really don’t know, get curious. There’s a whole world out there to learn about. Acknowledging how much you don’t know opens the door to how much you can learn. For me, I want to learn something new every day. Ask questions. Be curious. Stop spending your time trying to impress people with how much you already know, spend your time trying to learn something from what they know. The added benefit to that is that people will actually like you a lot better because you’ll be interested in them instead of what you probably do most of the time which is to get them interested in you. As always, let me hear from you. To be continued. . .