In Search Of Ignorance

The world is full of ignorant people. We despise them. We’re embarrassed by them. We sigh and shake our heads because they give humanity a bad name. Then we thank God we’re not one of them. 


Actually, there’s a good chance you are ignorant as well. In fact, a one hundred percent chance. If you stop to think about it, we are all ignorant in some respect. 

Nobody—absolutely nobody—knows everything. It’s impossible. Not if you had a hundred lifetimes. So why are there so many know-it-alls? Why are there so many “infallible” people? Do they really think they’re smarter or better?

There are two kinds of people:

1. Those who don’t know it all but pretend to.
2. Those who don’t know it all and admit it.

Between the two, the people in category number two have greater potential in life. Here’s why.

Both categories of people can hunger for knowledge. Both can stay up on the news, read books, have meaningful discussions and debates. But the people in category two have humility, which turns out to be the special sauce that enables greater potential. 

Humble people openly admit error. They aren’t afraid to say, “Huh, I didn’t know that.” They’re more likely to abandon their preconceived notions. They’re less biased. They’re more teachable. And therefore more situated for personal growth.

They’re also more willing to take risks and make mistakes, which is critical for success. Soichiro Honda said, “Success is 99% failure.” Are you willing to fail to achieve success?

These people view life as a never-ending journey of personal growth and achievement. They acknowledge their own ignorance, take aim and destroy it. 

Conversely, “know-it-alls” find it extremely painful to acknowledge their shortcomings. Perhaps they’ve spent years accumulating a treasure chest of knowledge or academic achievements. Perhaps they’ve garnered admiration and praise from parents, family, colleagues and associates. So admitting ignorance or incompetence in any way exposes a weakness they’d rather not admit: that they might be wrong. Their reputation just can’t take the hit.

They are particularly disdainful of less intelligent, less accomplished or uncredentialed people. So they disregard them completely.

Take for instance, a folk remedy for a health ailment. Often know-it-alls will disregard it, because it’s unendorsed by the scientific community. They’ve embraced an established system that refuses to even investigate a natural remedy claim. So it threatens not only their beliefs but their allegiance to the intelligentsia.

So how does this observation help us in our professional careers? 

If you make a concerted effort to change your mindset, admit your own ignorance and suppress the sting to your ego, then you begin to take the first step toward becoming more. You’ll not be afraid to make mistakes, not be afraid to change your mind, not be afraid to stick your foot in your mouth, not be afraid to apologize.  

Projecting an aura of infallibility doesn’t garner admiration. It makes others doubt your sincerity and honesty. And ultimately doubt your leadership. 

The first step toward greatness is the decision to be humble and have the courage to acknowledge your own ignorance. Then take aim and destroy it by enlightening yourself. And—this is key—if your new found understanding doesn’t align with your preconceptions, you must swallow your pride. Which is easier said than done. 

I’m amazed at how many ways I’ve been enlightened by new information in recent years, and how strong my human nature resists it. Damn stupid pride. It stops us from growing and becoming better humans.

Our world is more connected and more informed than ever before. There’s no better time to retool your brain to analyze everything. So take the time and make the effort. Help change the world for the better. Go in search of ignorance. Starting with your own. 

But be careful when you set your sights on someone else’s ignorance. You can’t force someone to understand something, no matter how hard you try. You can’t cram it down their throat. Don’t forget, they have stupid pride as well. They won’t change unless they want to. So do it tactfully and subtly. Forward a blog posting or great article and say, “I found this really interesting.” And speak about your own transformative experience, rather than trying to “school” them.

You leaders out there, be humble. Admit mistakes and bad judgement calls, then course correct. You have a lot more eyeballs on you, which means you can be a great influence. You can lead by example.

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