In Defense of Ignorance

In Defense of Ignorance

You’re ignorant.

Yes, you, reading this sentence now, are so incredibly ignorant that you don’t even know it yet. It’s mind-boggling how many people fail to realize this fact. Maybe it’s vanity or maybe it’s…. ignorance…

Let’s go ahead and define it now so we can all start on the same page.

Ignorant – 1) Lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated. 2) Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular.

I’m ignorant too, and I’ll be the first one to admit that there is a shit ton more that I DON’T know than there is that I do know.

So why the hell am I defending being ignorant? To make myself feel better? To bring everyone else down a notch?No.

I’m defending ignorance because it’s better than ineptitude.

Definition time again….

Inept– 1) Lacking in fitness or aptitude. 2) Lacking sense or reason. 3) Not suitable to the time, place, or occasion : inappropriate often to an absurd degree. 4) Generally incompetent.

You see, not knowing something isn’t a reason to be ashamed or harassed. The guy who walks into the gym for the very first time, picks up some dumbbells and does curls for the next three hours isn’t doing anything wrong. He doesn’t know what to do.

And frankly he’s taking a better approach than most people because he is actually doing something.

Now, the guy who has worked out for years and who still walks into the gym to do curls for three hours is inept. He’s incompetent, he doesn’t have any reason for doing what he is doing. This is a problem.

When you see that you’re ignorant in a subject, the reasonable response is to go learn about it. At least so you have an understanding and your ignorance isn’t as great. This is what school is supposed to be…showing you what you don’t know and letting you figure out more on your own.

When you’re inept, you just don’t give a fuck. You know that you’re doing it wrong but just don’t care. It’d be like me attempting to delivery the baby of a woman I just met on the train, while still on the train versus me being a licensed Ob-Gyn trying to shove the baby back in while saying “if you just relax the pain will stop!”

The first is ignorance. I’ve never delivered a baby and therefore any reasonable person can’t expect me to know how to deliver a baby.

The second is, grossly, ineptitude. The training, the school, and the licensing tell the reasonable person that I should be able to perform that procedure safely. It doesn’t make them think that I’m going to pose like the Heisman Trophy and tell the woman to count to ten.

So what’s the point of all of this?

Embrace ignorance. It’s the light that shows you where the hole in the ground is. Use it to show you where you need to keep learning. Don’t let your lack of knowledge define you.

Ineptitude is inexcusable. Like the old saying goes…if you’re not going to do something right then just don’t do it at all.

We have just two reasons that we may nonetheless fail. The first is ignorance—we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude—because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly. This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses, the snowstorm whose signs the meteorologist just plain missed, the stab wound from a weapon the doctors forgot to ask about.

– Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto




  1. Michael Reid says:

    I would suggest that we shouldn’t embrace ignorance but rather strive to reduce it. And when you say, “Don’t use you’re lack of knowledge define you.” you might remember that “your” is possessive and that “you’re” is a contraction of you are.


    • mikeinscho says:

      I agree. Going around shouting from the rooftops that you’re ignorant and proud isn’t what I was getting at. It’s that more often than not ignorance has a strictly negative connotation attached to it. Well…realistically there will be more areas that you’re ignorant in than areas you’re not. Once you can realize that you can allow yourself to see where you’re ignorant, and if you choose, work to reduce it.

      Good catch, I’d say that’s a perfect example of ineptitude and something I need to keep an eye out for. Thanks Mike.