Ignorance and Knowledge


June 20, 2011

“Set your eyes on your ignorance and a mountain of knowledge will be given to you.”  Faouzi Skali 20th-21st century

The word ignorant is most often used in a defamatory or condescending manner, but is actually the natural state into which we are all born, as ignorance is defined as “the quality of not knowing”.   All of the learning and education that we receive or engage in is a direct result of our understanding that we are “ignorant” of certain things.  We become aware of what we don’t know.  As children, we are innocently ignorant , through no fault of our own, and we often understand our ignorance as not being grown up yet.  We strive to learn that which looks fun, interesting, or desirous to do, etc..  Each human being, no matter what type or level of education we’ve acquired, is ignorant of a multitude of things.  Just as the farmer may not understand neurosurgery, the neurosurgeon may be clueless about how to successfully maintain soil and grow food.  The more intelligent we are at any point in our lives, and the more honest we are with our selves, the more we understand that.  This is the blameless, naive type of ignorance.  T. S. Elliot stated, “…In order to arrive at what you do not know, you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.”  We are all born ignorant and proceed to all knowledge from that point. 

Our early innocent ignorance is what makes us believe that our best friend in the 3rd grade is absolutely going to be our BFF (best friend forever).  This type of ignorance contributes to the glorious nature of many a childhood and also to our first loves.  Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), stated,  “The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.”  Indeed, unless we’re lucky enough to spend our entire lives with our first “one and only”, we at some traumatic, tragic moment, are stricken with the reality that relationships can and do end, and although we may experience other authentic and beautiful love stories, there will never be another love like that first.

I would separate truly ignorant adults, using the word in its most negative sense, into two camps; those that think they know it all and those that admit they don’t know everything, but don’t care to or can’t be bothered to learn anything else.  I have a poster in my 6th grade classroom that states,” Knowledge IS Power”, and I make sure to take the time to elaborate on that concept throughout the year.  Most of my students read the words but don’t really take the saying to heart at first, because they are innocently ignorant or naive and lack the concrete experience that illustrates the concept.  I strive to give them simple everyday examples as well as connect the saying to complex historic examples that leave great impressions, such as the entire outside world during the Nazi Germany era and the current state of North Korea, which I believe is illustrative of the following quote by James Baldwin (1924-1987).  “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. ”  It is only by keeping an entire country in the dark, that a dictator can attain his egomaniacal goals.

Victor Hugo  (1802-1885), stated , “God has bestowed two gifts on man: hope and ignorance. Ignorance is the better of the two.”  I would argue that they are both multifaceted and necessary in order to lead a life worth living , a positive and evolving life.  It’s unfortunate that the current availability of time travel prohibits me from actually asking Mr. Hugo for an explanation.  If given the chance, I’d agree that while hopes can be actualized and desires attained, any number of our hopes also meet their demise and lie forever in a wasteland of the unfulfilled.  However, without hope, human lives are barely tolerable, and sometimes even more painful to witness.  While ignorance can be bliss in particular situations, (childbirth comes to mind)  and indeed might also be necessary for the enjoyment of certain moments and entire periods in our lives, ignorance can also be toxic for people individually and collectively.  So Victor, while ignorance does precede all knowledge, it is not at all times a necessity.  It is with firm conviction and great certainty that I claim hope to have the more powerful and detrimental antithesis, and therefore between hope and ignorance, hope is the better of the two.  I declare hope a human need, at the top of the list, right up there with food, water, clothing and shelter.

Peace, Love, Knowledge, and Hope

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