I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase recently. What is the bliss of ignorance and what is the burden of knowledge?
Last weekend, I went to a play that was set, for a portion, in the Garden of Eden, portraying a perspective of God creating the world and humanity. In the play, Eve was depicted as a spunky question-er; somebody who was excited about learning things and exploring nature and beauty. She had a spark and a drive that wasn’t quenchable.
Adam was depicted much simpler. He was content with not knowing why something worked the way it did, but simply accepting it… in fact, I feel as though he represents a portion of our population who it doesn’t even occur to them to ask the “why?” and the “how?” that drive crazy those who are similar to Eve.
I feel like there are times in my life where I can resonate with both of these characters: sometimes I just want to know and I’m filled with curiosity. I doubt beliefs that seem to be done for no other reason than “well, they’ve just always been done like this…” and I want to know real reality instead of portrayed reality because I’m afraid of trusting something that might be completely false.
But on the other hand, sometimes, and with some issues, I am at such peace to simply choose a naïve neutral. These are issues that seem to be so heavily debated and emotionally burdensome and complex, especially where I can easily empathize with many different opposing arguments for and against.
One Ignorant Interview
On Monday, I walked past a student who was being interviewed about how much she knew regarding politics. It was the day before election day. I’m sure these interviewers where either doing an article for our student newspaper or they were doing something for a project of some kind. I decided to listen and see how many of the questions I knew the answers to.
The following is my memory of the conversation that they had, and my thoughts in parenthesis as I dropped eaves:
Interviewer: Who is the Speaker of the House? (isn’t that Nancy Pelosi?)
Girl’s answer: um, I have no idea, can you give me a hint?
Interviewer: She a woman…
Girl’s answer: um, Hillary Clinton (Nope, she’s Secretary of State… I’m quite certain the correct answer is Nancy Pelosi… would it be inappropriate to raise my hand and answer the question?)
Interviewer: Ok, How many electoral votes does Minnesota have? (ah man, I don’t know that one! I think Iowa has or had seven… but Minnesota certainly has a few more than that.)
Girl’s answer: um, 579? (What?? Does this girl even know how the electoral college even works?? Has she ever taken a government class?)
Interviewer: Ok, lets move onto a few easier questions, Who is our first lady?
Girl’s answer: well, Obama’s wife. (yes, ok, what’s her name… Please tell me you know this!!)
Interviewer: What’s her name?
Girl: I don’t know. (*heart breaking* Oh, this is embarrassing for you, I don’t even think you realize how embarrassing this is, girl.)
Interviewer: Ok, last question: Our two main political parties are represented by two animals, what two animals are they?
Girl: oh man! I don’t know this… well wait, isn’t one the elephant?
Interviewer: And what party does that represent?
Interviewer: Do you know the other animal?
Girl: Aardvark? (I’m done here.)
While I walked away I experienced some confusing emotions:
“How is this ok that a senior in college doesn’t know who our first lady is?? What does this mean??”
Our culture values learning and knowing, whether through classroom or books or life experiences. We make fun of people who are ill-informed or misinformed. I clearly sensed that I was dealing with the conflict of being a byproduct of my culture while encountering this ignorance.
I decided to go back and talk with this girl, do some investigation of my own. My thoughts still in parenthesis:
Me: So I noticed those guys asking you those questions, what was it for?
Girl: Oh I don’t know (shocking!) some project they were doing I think.
Me: Ok, well, I happened to overhear that you didn’t know who our first lady was, do you really not know that? I mean did you just forget who she was or had you never heard of her before?
Girl, laughing: Yeah, I mean I know that she’s Obama’s wife, but I didn’t know her name. But those guys told me that it was Michelle, right? I just don’t know much about politics. (I know.)
Me: Yeah. Huh. Why do you think that is, I mean that you don’t know much about politics? Do you know that there’s an election tomorrow?
Girl: Well, I guess, I mean, my family just didn’t really get into politics all that much, and honestly it’s so emotional and people are so opinionated that I just choose not to know these things and not to enter into all of that.
Me: Ok, I was just curious. I know what you mean, it can seem very emotional and heated at times. Thanks.
I’m glad I went back to ask. I understand wanting to avoid conflict, its probably the same drive that keeps me from talking about my own political convictions and the candidates that I choose to vote for in private.
Can you be knowledgeable and still avoid conflict? Is avoiding conflict always a good thing? Are there issues that I’m choosing to remain ignorant on because I don’t actually want to come to a conclusion that might offend somebody? Does neutrality always mean ignorance?
Going back to the play in the Garden of Eden, Eve eventually got kicked out of the garden because she pursued knowledge too far. Knowledge is sometimes and by some people viewed as a loss of faith. When you don’t know things, you have to depend on faith, but when you all of a sudden realize how the water cycle works, you don’t need to pray for rain, you just watch the Weather Channel.
I think its a curious tension that we’re forced to deal with, because as much as I value learning, I know that its impossible to know everything or to be right on everything.
I don’t want you to misunderstand me, I still greatly value education and knowledge and wisdom and understanding and learning. And, yet I still greatly appreciate faith and knowing that there’s always some amount of ignorance that we are blindly carrying around in our heads about the world.