Our little selves have had excitingly embarrassing lives. We never knew what the day held for us. Pooping & peeing in our pants was a daily threat. Zoning out into an entirely unknown world, only to find ourselves drooling absent-mindedly, tripping, slipping, floundering, making word salads; we have lived through it all. As if these were not enough, we were also taught that not knowing is a dangerous and shameful transgression. There was always one right answer. Either you would know it or you would be the dumb one hearing the familiar words, “You know nothing.”. With no brooding looks, swashbuckling zombie fighting skills and no background of resurrection, despite one’s ignorance, one would still not be John Snow. Loser much.
As we grew into the adult-klutz versions of ourselves, most of us came to realize that embarrassments are embarrassing only if we make them such. However, ignorance continued to be an utterly poo-poo affair. It became a fearful agony for us to say the words, “I don’t know”.
But why should one engage in this brutal honesty? Especially when our world is dominated by split second judgements. Admitting ignorance at workplace sears upon us a brand of stupidity.
For one, we all hold few snippets of information. But it would not be amiss to say that one cannot know ALL there is to know. In fact, as a species we know quite little. Right from the t<0 birth of the universe to why certain centers in our DNA determine our attractiveness for mosquitoes. We don’t know why insects are attracted to light or why we hiccup! (We know the how but not the why. (See: “Why do we hiccup?- TedED” https://ed.ted.com/lessons/why-do-we-hiccup-john-cameron#review )) There is indeed no limit to human ignorance.
So, if humanity with all its intelligence put together is a bit behind the class, we can certainly forgive ourselves for not being as knowledgeable as we fancy ourselves to be. So why does there have to be any qualifying judgement attached to it? Why does it have to be a bad thing if the lack of knowledge is quite prevalent and is in fact closer to reality?
Where there is no admittance of ignorance, there is room for conjecture. Conjecture is that fiendish friend that inspires much confidence. He is certain, confident and allows for swift decisions. He fills in the blanks for us, which is calming and comforting. We had invited him for a couple of drinks but he was here to stay. On those lonely Saturday evenings when we sought answers to the reasons of our existence, Conjecture was ready with reassuring answers about intelligent design. When we had questions about our ailments, he was quite confident that we owe them to our yesteryear sins. He would always deliver his conclusions with marked confidence and that lead us to make bad decisions. We even warred against one another basis his convenient conclusions. Even the Holocaust was, partially, a fallout of a wrongly understood science of genetics. (Read more: “The Gene: An Intimate History”, Siddharth Mukherjee) Instead of being uncertain of his knowledge, Hitler’s confident mind added two plus apple and called for death.
Let alone the global issues, we have judged people with minimum knowledge of their lives. When our opinion was sought, we confidently conveyed that the concerned person is a wierdo, instead of admitting that we barely know him and would not be competent to form any opinion. We don’t need to be ICBMs to deal incredible damage. So, it is not the lack of knowledge which is the villain but us turning our faces away from admitting to it.
It was only when we admitted to the bulky gaps in the things we know, is when we opened our minds to new possibilities and discoveries. We learnt of different people, cultures, species and lands. We realized that our religious texts would not be sufficient to answer everything and thus we called for scientific inquiry. Yes, indeed, we finally said, “We don’t know”. We came closer to reality by admitting our ignorance, seeking the truth and then drawing conclusions.
On an individual level, by allowing ourselves to admit the things that we don’t know, we ready our minds to new information. We also show our true selves to ourselves and others. Not having to put up a face of the smart fellow, we bring people closer to our reality. Thus giving up the actor and adopting the role of the learner. Learning more in the process.
We all were that child who despite various shortcomings would not give two farts about judging eyes. He was free to absorb all information around him, finding magic in all that he would discover. Breaking open dad’s watch out of curiosity to find tiny gears whirring inside. Wanting to know what lay beyond the garden fence – squeezing through it to discover new muddy spaces to dirty himself in. Our minds knew little and that was the only fact we were certain about. Giving ourselves the liberty to ask questions- incessantly and unabashed. Looking at our world anew every day. We grew more as kids than we grow as adults.