“I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
– Thomas Carlyle
It’s a truth, and I doubt it is limited to our own time and place: ignorance in the world is as common as it is inevitable. As a whole, I believe the human tendency is to focus on the things that are of direct concern to us. Unfortunately, this means that we rarely learn nor speak of anything outside of our own experiences. While this sort of thing can be perfectly harmless, it’s equally useless. The success of any individual has much more to do with the desires and needs of the world around them than it does with their own interests.
One common misconception that needs to be put to rest: ignorance is not correlated to intelligence. There are people throughout the world who possess a remarkable intelligence – and even the capacity to motivate – but remain impressively unaware of anyone beyond their noses. There is some connection, however, between wisdom and ignorance. That is to say, those who possess wisdom are typically the most aware of their shortcomings and the most apt to work for improvement.
It’s unlikely you could ever prove one way or the other, but I believe ignorance is at the root of – if not the greatest, sole cause of – thoughtlessness and hatred in our world. Far too many people are unwilling to think outside themselves. When we fail to develop our ability to understand others, we never gain the skills we need to maintain this world. No man is an island unto himself, and no one person could ever succeed without the help of others.
Ignorance is not nefarious by default. It’s true that ignorance can simply be the result of happenstance: perhaps your life circumstances never put you in a situation to learn? It can, however, be entirely deliberate. Seemingly, this is where the greatest atrocities stem from. People that are intentionally unwilling to educate themselves on the people and places that surround them will only ever be a burden to their fellow man. Many, many wars have come and gone as a result of those who don’t want to know more about others.
Perhaps the greatest way to eliminate ignorance in yourself is to open your eyes and quiet your mouth. It’s been my experience that you will always learn more by listening than by speaking. This is actually quite intuitive; how could you ever say something you don’t already know? You will never speak about anything that is beyond your own experience – because, how would you?
With that said, we must be careful where we choose to listen. Often those that are most wont to speak are also the least qualified. Throughout literature and history, it is frequently noted that a fool is more likely than most to share his opinions. The take-away, I believe, is that we need to look for those that may possess the knowledge or wisdom we would benefit from. Just as we have learned to listen, so those who might best teach us are likely prone to silence themselves.
One last thought: always be careful in accepting common knowledge. Often, nonsense spreads faster than fact.
Thank you for your time.