I have noticed a trend emphasized by social media that makes me cringe and sometimes even fearful.
Can I put out a desperate plea?
Can we please stop celebrating ignorance?
I want to make the distinction first between celebration and admission. I firmly believe that admission of ignorance on any given topic whether it be in public forum or discussion between friends is absolutely useful for creating environments of humility, not to say anything of creating strong bonds between people. If there’s anything that will bring people together more than a common interest, it’s a common coming out of dark about a lack of awareness or know-how about something. Trust me I have experienced the blessed relief of knowing, “whew, I’m not the only one who has no idea what I’m doing or what to think about this.” My favorite conversations are then the ones that follow, where I try to learn something, to be informed and educated. That is admission of ignorance, an action that promotes a healthy self-awareness and keeps our egos in check. Celebration of ignorance is over-embellishing the degree of ignorance and letting ourselves off the hook a bit too easily. We are better than that.
I will be the first to raise my hand and say I don’t have a clue about many things in life, but I’m desperately trying to figure out how to live it well. I try to take advantage of opportunities where I can learn something, especially from people who share viewpoints different than mine so I can gain a better perspective and greater understanding. At the same time this is not a plea for us to all try to become know-it-alls. Besides, we all only have so much mental capacity and things we can afford to ponder in a day while managing our own selves and families The issue is bragging on our ignorance in attempt to make ourselves more likable, to appear funnier. Let’s not trade a humble quest for knowledge for shallow and fleeting solidarity among the peanut gallery.
Let’s not glorify in a facebook post how we don’t know how to operate our iphone.
Let’s not glorify to our friends how we don’t understand anything about retirement plans.
Let’s not glorify to our coworkers how impossibly complex the global trafficking issue is.
I have mentioned before how sometimes this world just seems like too much. Problems are just too big and too hard to solve. That is a dangerous mentality to get comfortable in because it takes us from despair to indifference. But that’s the thing, if we are going to be a people that matter, in the sacred words of Schoolhouse Rock, “knowledge is power”. The injustices of this world require people who 1. want to pursue understanding and 2. use it for good. So when we start to feel overwhelmed by our lack of understanding about something let’s do something about it or keep our concerns to ourselves.
We have several options, but the option of elevating ignorance to celebration status is the worst one. If we celebrate ignorance in the small things like not understanding technology it is a slippery slope to celebrating ignorance in the big things.
1. Ask for help. Do go ahead and put out an APB on facebook to get help for your iphone problem, understanding troop involvement in Chad, or bitcoin [I’m still lost on that one, but it falls into #3 for me]. Don’t post a conversation to social media between you and your husband showing how “funny” you are because you know nothing about cell phones.
2. Research. Start with reputable sources you trust and go from there. Don’t let yourself off the hook with the excuse that “you don’t know where to start”. Google is your friend.
3. Move along. If you find yourself in a conversation where you are not familiar with the topic, it’s really ok to just say so, admitting ignorance, or an even rarer feat, say nothing. I think it is a very healthy and respectful notion to not feel compelled to jump into a conversation and fake your way through it. At all costs, do not aggrandize your ignorance by saying it is “over your head” or the like. If you are not interested in the subject, move on from it or listen and learn.
If you want to celebrate ignorance make it a party of one. If you want to admit ignorance, learn something, and carry that with you, then by all means, party on.