Is ignorance bliss?

I recently read an online skirmish that became a breakdown in communication. Though the original post wasn’t something that everyone was going to agree with, it was based on fact and research. I know. I wrote it. I copied the web address for anyone to research for themselves. A friend decided to use the post as a way to talk about different issues.

I have a variety of friends. I don’t agree with each of them and they don’t agree with me. I have not cut people off because their views haven’t lined up with mine. If I did, I’d be eating Thanksgiving alone on an island, which sometimes doesn’t seem like a punishment. This recent disagreement ended with that person unfriending me. It is more sad than tragic as that person left with a flurry of capital letters because another individual used the word ignorant in a general statement.

The term “ignorant” is such a hot button word. People misuse it all the time and I’d venture to say that a good portion of the population believe the word is synonymous with stupid. (I’m trying to be kind here. A lot of people use ignorant interchangeably with stupid.) It is not. Everyone can be ignorant about something, but not everyone is stupid. To be clear, the word was used correctly in the comments with no insult intended. I have nice friends.

According to Oxford Dictionary the origins are from the Latin word ignorant meaning “not knowing.” There are three definitions of the word ignorant: 1) lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated. 1.1 lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about a particular thing. 2) (informal) discourteous or rude 3) (West Indian) Angry or quick-tempered.

I would attempt to list the numerous ideas that I’m ignorant about, but I can’t because I don’t know them. That is ignorance, the not knowing. If I listed items I was aware I didn’t know, then I am no longer ignorant of the situation, but unwilling or uninterested in learning more. I can do this all day.

Choosing to be uninformed is not ignorance, but rather a choice to remain uneducated, to not stretch ourselves and continue to learn. Words are important. Is ignorance really bliss?

Thomas Gray’s 1742 poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,ends in the often misunderstood final stanza ” … Since sorrow never comes too late, and happiness too swiftly flies. Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Generally the poem is about the unavoidable suffering of humankind and allowing school children to remain innocent as youth is brief. It does not explore how it is better to grow up and remain ignorant. Anyway, I digress.

It seems to me that the original meaning of the word “ignorant” has long been hijacked. We lose our ability to explain our point of view when one word is considered an insult. Does it matter the origin of a word if its modern connotation is perceived as a cutting remark? I believe yes. We need to continue to communicate, help each other understand, and grow. As adults, we are not in the Gray’s stage of innocence where “Ignorance is bliss.” There is always the opportunity to continue to help people learn and explore. As I stated above, I may be ignorant on some issues, but I am always willing to discover new things. I wish you the same. Thank you.

Diane Chase is the author of the “Adirondack Family Activities” guidebook series, “Adirondack Family Time: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities.” For more family-friendly activities go to www.adirondackfamilytime.com.

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