We have all heard that ignorance is bliss. It’s not. Ignorance is ignorance. What you do not know cannot help you, and often, it can hurt you. I am amazed at my own ignorance even though I spend time everyday studying how to think, how to listen and how to speak. Ignorance lingers like a shadow on the edge of knowledge and darkens our soul whenever we think we know it all. The ultimate goal of education is to question everything. So let’s begin by asking how we can learn to listen, to speak and to think intelligently.
Epistemology is the study of the limits of what we can know. What do we know and how do we know it’s so? Mark Twain summed up the problem perfectly when he said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.” My 92 years old grandmother often told me, “Live long and die dumb.” Now the only thing my grandmother and Mark twain have in common is that they are both dead. But I have come to accept that ignorance comes before knowing. I think of ignorance as an invitation to learn. By refining our thinking we extend the limits of what we can know and say well.
When we speak, we either reveal our knowledge or our ignorance. Sometimes, I feel like I am only opening my mouth, just to change feet. The trick to maximizing our ignorance and minimizing its impact is discovering which things make a difference and working on them. Want to sound more intelligent? Start speaking with, and listening to, smarter people. Yeah I know I love all my friends too, even if some of them are not the sharpest tools in the shed. But if they are not helping you grow, you may want to spend a little less time with them. Ignorance’s influence can be so subtle. It is so easy to agree with what feels comfortable, without really thinking. The best way to stop sounding ignorant is to learn to listen.
Listening skills are taken for granted. We assume everyone knows how to listen. After all you remember all your grade school listening classes, don’t you? Me neither. Yet in every Math, English, and Gym class we were expected to listen. I can still hear my second grade teacher Mrs. Tinsman telling me I’d better listen up. I just wish she could have taught me how. Ignorance is insidious when we fail to realize how poorly we listen. On average, about 40% of your audience will forget virtually everything you said 20 minutes after your presentation. Give them a day and 70% of them probably won’t even remember your name. This is good news if your presentations stink. But, surely you want to be better than average. It is ignorant to believe that we can speak better than we can listen. When you listen well, people will tell you exactly what they need and want to hear.
Following your bliss is a wonderful way to live. Being blissfully ignorant isn’t. No matter how hard we try we will never know it all. Ignorance is incessant and so is our capacity to intelligently improve our listening, thinking and speaking.