“Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education.” -Stephen R. Covey
We live in a “know it all” society. We take pride in feeling like our perspective or view on things is correct and if anyone challenges that view our default is to say/think they’re wrong and we’re right.
I believe this is rooted in not wanting to feel vulnerable or appear dumb. But, it is simply impossible to know everything about everything. It doesn’t matter how educated you are, there is always more to learn and always things to be curious about.
In fact, I promise you, there are plenty of topics that you know nothing about. The only way to learn is to admit you don’t know. I think we have to be willing to confess when we don’t know what someone is talking about and ask them to clarify to help us understand. My guess is that a lot of people nod as if they understand what is being said and seek out the information on their own, if at all. In these cases, the opportunity to connect with another person is lost.
I’m wrong about things all the time. I make comments and the people in my social circle correct my false assumptions. Or, I read a news article or book that helps me better understand the world. But, the best way to learn about the world is to be in the company of people that are different than you. There is no better way to learn than to listen to the lived experiences of others. There is something incredibly powerful about really listening to another person. These moments have the potential to change the way you see the world. I love those moments in my life. I live for those moments. Much of the time, those moments result in the realization that I was ignorant about something and may have said or done things that were hurtful with this ignorance.
The most confident people are openly ignorant. I think that confident people admit when they don’t know something as opposed to saying things like: “I’ve read this and worked here and my parents told me” Those statements let me know you’re scared to admit that maybe you don’t know something or understand what is being discussed. There is a beautiful vulnerability in admitting you don’t know but want to know and want to try and understand.
Ultimately, it’s lonely being right all the time. It’s lonely when you “know it all.” Human connections will always be made in moments of vulnerability. In my experience the inability to admit ignorance results in feeling angry or indignant. Who wants to live in that skin all the time?
Admitting ignorance and embracing vulnerability is honest and it just feels good (sometimes it feels scary, too).
Finally, there is an important distinction between hate speech/actions and ignorance. If you don’t understand something you do not have permission to harass/tease/act violent towards the things you do not understand. It is better to try and understand or say nothing at all. People gather together (in real life and on the internet) around these types of hateful actions in an effort to avoid appearing ignorant.
So, let’s keep asking questions and trying to learn more about the other people in the world. Let’s embrace our ignorance.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
― Stephen Hawking