The wisdom of ignorance

Kay-Lambert Associates Limited

Training, Coaching & Consultancy for Growth

The Wisdom of Ignorance

Have you ever found yourself locking horns with someone who’s so sure they’re right and won’t back down?

Have you ever had to work with someone who never apologises for fear of admitting they might be wrong?

And what about those people who just love to put you down by showing off their encyclopaedic knowledge about this and that?

No-one really likes a know-it-all, and there’s always the chance that they’ll be found out and proved wrong. It’s almost inevitable because there’s so much information out there that we are bound to have missed something.

In fact their supposed wisdom is really just another form of ignorance, based on biases and prejudices. If you’re smug, you’re a mug because you’re setting yourself up for a mighty fall.

So smug isn’t good, but what about genuine cleverness?

We love intelligence and we promote people on the basis of it even though, in isolation of other qualities, it rarely makes them good leaders. We value it so highly that we force people through school, college, and university: we challenge then to gain qualifications, accreditations, and certificates: and we test them to within an inch of their life. We need to know that the empty vessel has been topped up.

But our traditional notions of intelligence don’t always serve us well. Potentially they close our minds to possibilities, dreams, and alternatives. Because ‘intelligence’ is often seen as the gathering of known information, logically sorted to deliver rational conclusions, it doesn’t leave enough space to consider the unknown, or to question what we have previously held to be true. It can breed inaction because people are too cautious to proceed without having all the answers upfront.

Children’s play is often unencumbered by the need to have all the information (or any information). What they lack in knowledge, data and fact, they make up for with ideas, imagination and daring. And who’s to say that what they end up with isn’t better or at least more interesting? They are still in the phase of genuine exploration where everything is possible, nothing is excluded, and their imaginations can run free. 

The Visual and Performing Arts serve a valuable function other than to entertain. They provoke us and are a way of helping us look at the familiar in a new and enlightening way. They challenge old ideas and prejudices by eliciting a visceral as well as intellectual response. They can take us out of ourselves so that we encounter ideas that we might otherwise have dismissed or shied away from. They hook us, disarm us, and leave us freer to explore new interpretations of our world.

But why should we need to be tricked or manipulated in this way? Why can’t we decide for ourselves that for a few moments each day ‘ignorance will be bliss’?

By creating this room to wallow in ignorance we can use it to embrace flights of fancy, dream the impossible, empty our minds and look at the world through new and wondrous eyes. Let’s assume we don’t know. Let’s imagine that our intelligence is a myth. Then, in the absence of all that we have learned, we can ask ourselves, “What else is there?”

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