Ignorance Really Isn’t Bliss

Life is all about learning.

Posted Sep 24, 2020

81643675 Dreamstime/Igor Zakharevich
Source: ID: 81643675 Dreamstime/Igor Zakharevich

Thomas Gray originated the saying in his poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1742): “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” But is it? Let’s look at what results from ignorance: avoidance of facts and information, a skewed view of the world where you don’t want to learn more about something, a desire to label and judge something you might not fully understand, and a general lack of knowledge about the world around you.

The trend today is to diminish those things that require knowledge—professionals in the sciences, medicine, educational system, and so on. Unproven conspiracy theories abound, and educated individuals are sidelined and maligned for their viewpoint. People can believe what they want to believe, and reading or researching alternative views isn’t necessary, or so the belief might be.

Life is all about learning. Things change, new information arises, and your viewpoint might change if you knew more about what was happening. Many people want to stay stuck in their ignorance and choose to avoid deepening their knowledge about all of what life has to offer.

As a college professor for both graduate and undergraduate students, this troubles me. Developing curiosity, an investigative worldview where you want to uncover more, is a lifelong skill that can serve you well and open your eyes and mind, rather than allowing you to stay stuck in your beliefs.

If you want to have more “bliss” that comes from education and understanding, try a few of these ideas:

1. Talk to people who have differing viewpoints without arguing or fighting. Seek to understand. You do not have to agree, and you do not have to alter your beliefs, but listen with an open mind to what they are saying and why they are saying it.

Consider your sources: Where do they come from, how were they raised, how did they come to believe what they did? Rather than reject or rebel against those who are different and react emotionally, adopt an objective, “I want to learn about you” attitude toward others.

2. Check your facts and re-check them. The problem with facts is that they can be altered and skewed depending on how you view them and the audience. There is a great marketing story about teens on a college campus who were asked about their personal lives and then happiness, in that order, and then were again asked about happiness and then their personal lives. The satisfaction ratings for the same two questions were drastically different depending on the order in which the students were asked.

If you read something, and you aren’t sure of the leaning of the writer or the accuracy of what you’ve read, use the Media Bias fact-checker tool. This site can show you the influence and veracity of any media source.

3. Deliberately read and listen to alternative news sources. You know the big ones—spend time on FOX News but then turn to CNN.com, or vice versa, to get alternate viewpoints, but read and research many different media types. Read local papers and national news; explore social media by learning more about who is posting something and where the source came from. When someone who believes differently from you posts something, explore it, but then learn about the source. Become an avid researcher.

4. Choose to be a learner. You don’t have to go back to school, but you can still take out books from the library—read biographies, history, and non-fiction, and learn about events, people, and how things have come to be a certain way. If you like a certain topic, learn more about the genesis of it, the different viewpoints on it. Not everyone reads, so consider podcasts, webinars, discussion boards, online groups, and so on. Find your way to learn and then do it.

5. Don’t assume you know what others mean, where they have come from, or anything about them unless you take the time to investigate and learn. Assumptions are almost always hurtful and never forward your progression to being a more informed individual. Stay open and let others teach you what you need to know.