Neuendorf: Accept ignorance in order to learn

Zachary Neuendorf

A college campus could easily be mistaken for a playground full of debate warriors, each using their flourishing knowledge as a weapon against the other debate warriors, with each one more stubborn than the last.

There is a trend of arrogance going hand-in-hand with knowledge. In order to look smart, we must act like we know everything about everything. When faced with an opposing point-of-view, we must defend our viewpoint until we reign victorious, even if it means totally ignoring the opposition —who, believe it or not, may offer some valid ideas, or even be right.

These feuds have been amplified in recent weeks because of the ongoing left wing/right wing struggle to function, and many put the blame of this and countless other unresolvable disputes on ignorance. But I do not believe ignorance itself is the problem, but instead, it is how we are using our ignorance and refusing its existence. Because the truth is, we are all ignorant, and the sooner we acknowledge it, the sooner we can work on it.

I am not talking about ignorance that lets us choose to be unaware and close-minded. That sort of ignorance goes unnoticed, which in turn makes it a weapon against our consciousness, resulting in a dangerous naivety we should all strive to overcome. That sort of ignorance is bliss, but that’s not what it should be; it ought to ignite a curiosity. The ignorance I am talking about is accepting the fact we know a very little about very few things, and having the desire to do something about that.

Conscious ignorance is what probes us to ask more questions; it is the reason we are able to learn. Without it, we fool ourselves into believing there is nothing left to observe, and we get caught in our exclusive cycle of personalized opinions and facts that we take for granted. No great discovery was founded upon absolute knowledge, because if absolute knowledge existed, there would be nothing left to discover.

Instead, it is curiosity that moves us forward, opens our eyes and can even bring us together. When society recognizes our ignorance together, we are curious together, and when we are curious together, we discover together. The go-to display of national unity is the 1969 moon landing, which perfectly exhibits how a whole country can bring together all their curiosity to accomplish something out of this world.

Ignorance should excite us, just as learning should excite us. The moment we feel as if we have learned all we need to learn is the moment we have failed as students — not only students of school — but students of life. All that the world has to teach us is as vast and endless as the ocean, compared to the pebble of knowledge each of us possesses. It is true that some of the pebbles are larger than other pebbles — some of us do know more than others — but in the end, we are all basically pebbles of information with nothing to boast about.

Socrates once said, “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” This is more true to all of us than we would like to admit. But we are lucky (perhaps too much so) in that we have a great deal of knowledge at our fingertips each and every moment thanks to our smartphones and Google. These devices should be utilized in moments of inquiry, but the problem is the ease lets us take the information for granted. We are bound to digest it, accept it, and then leave it. This process has taught us to ask fewer questions and just learn a little about lots.

By learning just a smidgen about everything, we think of ourselves as experts in life — all knowing fountains of wisdom, if you will. For most of us, this will never be the case. It is a fact of human nature that ignorance is inescapable, but that does not mean it shouldn’t inspire us to be better by asking questions, opening our eyes and pursuing the unattainable goal of utter knowledge.

So, next time you catch yourself in a healthy warrior-worthy debate, remind yourself how ignorant you are, then listen and learn. What you’ll gain from this is more valuable than a passing victory.