Question: Would you describe yourself as ignorant?
I’m assuming that you probably answered no to that question.
Ignorance is, after all, a dirty word that we associate with negative connotations. If you are described as being ignorant, this unhandily implies you are uneducated and unsophisticated.
But here’s the truth….
…you are ignorant.
I am ignorant, too.
In fact, it’s impossible for anyone not to be ignorant towards something.
So, in this post, I’m going to demonstrate why we should embrace ignorance, and in some areas, actively seek it.
What exactly is ignorance?
According to Google, ignorance is “lacking knowledge or awareness in general.”
It’s not always a case of not knowing something, it sometimes a case of not knowing that you don’t know something.
This is what sums up the famous saying “ignorance is bliss” because you cannot be troubled by something that you don’t know you don’t know.
Following on from that, you can be ignorant by simply not knowing that you are ignorant.
…and if we dive even deeper down the rabbit hole, if you are aware of your ignorance, then you, by default, become less ignorant.
I could keep going, but lets move on.
You do not know everything
If I changed my opening question to “do you know everything?” I bet most people would have felt more comfortable answering no to that question than confirming they are ignorant.
That’s because we are all aware it’s impossible to know everything, and so we are happy to admit that. But admitting that we are ignorant is damaging to our character and ego.
However, confirming that you don’t know everything is almost part and parcel of confirming that you are also ignorant in some areas.
There are things you don’t know, and there are things you don’t know that you don’t know.
Hereby, I give you the definition of ignorance.
Why ignorance can be a good thing
There are probably more subjects which you are ignorant towards than subjects in which you are knowledgeable.
For example, you may be ignorant towards dental chemistry, the solar system, marine biology, or the behavior of wild meerkats.
…but do you really need to know about the behavior of wild meerkats? Unless you work in a zoo, you are making a documentary about them, or you have meerkats in your care, then the answer is going to be no.
Now, you might want to know about their behavior as a bit of interesting general trivia that may come in handy in a pub quiz one Friday evening on the 12th of never, which is perfectly fine, but other than that, carrying around the knowledge of the way meerkats behave in the wild is going to be totally useless to you.
The same as a computer has limited space to store and save files, documents, pictures, and videos, we as humans only have so much storage space in our brains. It’s therefore important we fill that space with information that’s going to be useful. (…your partner’s birthday, for example.)
This is where we adopt the concept of selective ignorance.
In other words, choose what information to fill your brain with and declare ignorance on everything else.
Using selective ignorance to obtain mastery
As we have covered, you are going to be ignorant in some areas of life (probably a lot more areas that you’ll care to admit – hence, ignorance) so it makes sense that you are ignorant in the areas that serve no purpose to you.
The great thing about the human race is that we are all different. Therefore, in the areas where you are most ignorant, there are people who are masters. And in areas in which you chose to focus and master, other people will be ignorant.
Together, as a family, a town, a country, a continent, and a global population, we work together to leverage the knowledge of those that are masters in their chosen fields.
In order to obtain mastery, you must dedicate time and deliberate practice to it. This could be studying, carrying out research and experiments, doing physical practical activities such as playing the violin, etc. Whatever it is, it needs time.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, as he states in his book Outliers, one must dedicate at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to a chosen field before one can obtain mastery.
As we’ve already discussed in my blog post on the Cost of Opportunity (coming soon), the 10,000 hours you dedicate to developing mastery in one area of your life costs you the opportunity of spending that 10,000 hours elsewhere, either working on or doing something else.
Therefore, in order to obtain this highly skilled and sought-after master status in one area, you must be ignorant in many others.
This is not a bad thing; it is a necessity.
So, would you describe yourself as (selectively) ignorant?
If someone brandishly calls you ignorant, do not take this as an insult. (After all, they could be ignorant to this concept of ‘selective ignorance’ ?)
The goal is to achieve mastery, and for that, one must exercise selective ignorance and carefully choose what he/she files away in the finite storage capacity of their cranium.
Understand that it is impossible to know everything, so do not try to.
Embrace your ignorance, and just know that Google and Alexa have got your back just in case you do need to check exactly how those meerkats behave in the wild.
- The Trading of Time
- Why I Visit Cemeteries & Graveyards for Personal Development
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
- Why Successful People Regularly Fail (and Why You Should Too)