Benefit #2: To Fight Ignorance

You have two choices in life: to stay ignorant or get educated. If you stay ignorant, you’ll never learn. Admit your ignorance and you’ll thrive.

Politicians hardly do this. They almost never admit they’re wrong or ignorant, even though one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived did so. Marcus Aurelius, the 6th Roman Emperor, revered in it! He said, “If any man can convince me and bring home to me that I do not think or act aright, gladly will I change; for I search after truth, by which man never yet was harmed. But he is harmed who abides on still in him deception and ignorance.”

The old adage that “ignorance is bliss” is a lie. Toss it away! Ignorance is a prison. A malignant disease! Abolish it. Destroy it! Don’t let your life be based on it.

Ignorance isn’t bliss. The closed-minded person never gets ahead in life. In fact, intolerance —religious, racial or political— is often the result of one who has stopped learning. As Douglas Adams, bestselling author of The Hitchhiker’s’ Guide To The Galaxy said, “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

We must read. Reading is the medicine, the cure, the elixir for ignorance and fear! Without it, the demons take over. And we end up in Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” with the blind leading the blind. As Goethe, a famous writer, said, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” And as Atwood H. Townsend said, “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

So, enlist the truth! Know it and it will set you free. The more we know, the more we’ll know. Because the more we know, the more questions we ask. That’s education! Education makes us more aware of the world around us.

Daniel Boorstin, bestselling author, University of Chicago historian and the 12th Librarian of the United States Congress, made a distinction in the concept of ignorance. He said, “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance— it was the illusion of knowledge.” In other words, it wasn’t ignorance that stopped the explorers. It was thinking that they already knew the answer. Thus, it’s better not to know than to be content with the wrong answer.

It’s better not to know than to think we know. In other words, false security is worse than no security! As Will Rogers said, “The problem in America isn’t so much what people don’t know; the problem is what people think they know that just ain’t so.”

Why is it better to not know than to know? Because, if you don’t know something, you have the chance to Google it, YouTube it or better yet, head down to your local library or open up Amazon or Apple bookstore. Why? Because books are the repository of wisdom.

If we want to accomplish anything in life we must learn to think deeply. Philosophy is indispensable for this. It trains us to think for ourselves, to think outside the established framework and to suspect and question everything even our own ideas and the ideas of our leaders.

In short, philosophy teaches us to doubt. Jim Rogers, multi-millionaire, said, “Most of the things you are told are going to be inaccurate, reflecting a lack of knowledge or a distortion of information, whether on the part of the government, a company, or an individual. You cannot take anybody’s word for anything.”

We doubt by asking questions. That’s how we learn! In fact, a questioner is ablaze with curiosity. Through reading, a reader can answer a question that’s unrelated to the text itself.

To think deeply, we must first think outside of the box. To think outside of a box, we need to think inside of books.

So, educate yourself so you can protect yourself. Educated people are hard to control. And, as Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer and science popularizer, said, “Those who understand are more likely to survive.”

You don’t know what you don’t know. But you can find out. So, don’t be embarrassed by what you don’t know. There’s no shame in not knowing. Don’t worry if you’ve only read one book or if you read many books but none were non-fiction or even if you think you’re too old to pick up a nonfiction book.

Scientists have no shame in not knowing. In fact, they revel in it. Until you can admit you don’t know, it’s impossible to learn. All learning starts with admitting ignorance. It starts with the world’s humblest words, “I don’t know.”

Reading is that chance to accept that we don’t know. It’s a great act of humility and inferiority. My beliefs, opinions and facts are challenged every time I open up a book.

If you think you know it all, you really know nothing. Stop and reconsider. The mark of a true intellectual is when he finds himself saying “I don’t know” a lot. As William Hirstein, philosophy professor at Elmhurst College, said,

Admitting ignorance in response to a question, rather than being an indication of glibness and a low level of function, is a high-level cognitive ability, one that confabulators have lost. ‘I don’t know,’ can be an intelligent answer to a question, or at least an answer indicative of good cognitive health.

The point here isn’t that we are bad at saying “I don’t know.” The point is that we’re bad at knowing we don’t know. Most of us are better at generating theories than at registering our own ignorance. As in —again—, we aren’t very good at saying, “I don’t know.” This creates all kinds of friction. Imagine all the unnecessary conflicts we’d have if people didn’t say “excuse me” when they needed to get past someone or “I’m sorry” when they accidentally bumped into them instead.

Acknowledging our ignorance will improve our lives in two ways:

  1. It will give us a humiliation-free means to rescue ourselves from our own ridiculousness.
  2. It will help us de-escalate all those unwinnable battles.

Recognizing the limits of our own knowledge is a very admirable goal. However, knowing what we don’t know is only the beginning. Now that we know what we don’t know, we can go find out! Ignorance is now empowering!

There came a point in my life where I doubted every “fact.” At this point, I was closer to the truth. Finally, I understood how the truth was forged. Permanently, I understood how a hypothesis turns into fact. This is the beauty of reading.

One last note, to say that non-fiction readers live under a rock or in a shadow, is also another great lie. They not only live in every light but they revel in blazing brightness enlighten by colossal books written by even more behemothic authors. They’re able to disseminate the truth and defend any argument regardless of its merit. Reading isn’t a place for them to go when they’re bored or a place to escape to. It’s a place to go when they want to dive to life’s very depth! I am a reader not because I don’t have a life but because I choose to have many lives. As George R.R. Martin, author of the famous A Game of Thrones said, “A reader lives a thousand lives…The man who never reads only lives one.”

To your success,

Nikhil Mahadea