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There aren't too many things in life as damaging as ignorance.  While we've all heard the saying that "ignorance is bliss," we all know that that particular saying is about as true as "the customer is always right" -- they're just words that we hear a lot.  The truth is that ignorance is a very damaging aspect of many of our lives, and I know that in my life, it's caused me a lot of pain, frustration, confusion, and aggravation.  And I know that the worst times are when I act out of ignorance rather than taking the time to find out more information about a situation, and this has happened much more than I'd like to admit.

First off, it seems important to define this term.  Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge, not a form of stupidity, as some people like to use the term when they're trying to insult someone else.  For example, I'm completely ignorant of most aspects of quantum physics.  I know almost nothing about the topic, and I'm the first to admit that I'm almost completely ignorant about the field.  The same goes for chemistry, veterinary medicine, current politics in New Zealand, and many, many other topics.

But there are some things about which I shouldn't be ignorant.  Another saying that we often hear is that "ignorance of the law is no excuse," and for the most part, that's true.  Most judges and police officers will be pretty forgiving if we're talking about little-known laws that are almost never enforced, but does your state have a law concerning the use of cell phones while driving?  

Ours does, and not knowing about the law can result in a pretty heavy fine and points on your license.  I shouldn't be ignorant of how my step-children are doing in school, I shouldn't be ignorant of the particular demands of my job, and I shouldn't be ignorant of what's going on in my town.  If I don't pay some attention, who's to blame for my surprise when they start tearing down my neighborhood to build a new bypass or apartment complex?

Ignorance is the main force behind almost all prejudices and biases.  Even the word "prejudice" implies "pre-judging," or judging beforehand, and we have to ask "before what?"  The answer, of course, is before having all the knowledge necessary to judge accurately.  And if you don't have that knowledge, you're ignorant, yet you're still judging.  How can that ever be helpful or even honest?

Many people who face difficult financial situations do so because of ignorance -- ignorance of basic financial principles behind credit, ignorance of tax laws and procedures, and ignorance of concepts such as interest and investing.  They find themselves struggling because they just didn't know that putting so much on credit would lead to such high monthly bills.  They didn't realize that even paying the minimum monthly payment on credit doesn't lower the bill enough even to make a dent in the balance.  They've believed the hype behind the "buy now" mentality, and they haven't made the effort to look behind that hype and find out the true story.

Many religions and cults and splinter groups from major religions like to encourage ignorance among their followers, for they fear that if their followers learn more about their tenets and beliefs, they'll not like what they see and back out.  In this way, these groups build intolerance and prejudice among their followers, keeping these people trapped in a system of belief that's based upon not knowing any more than the leaders want them to know.

Many people like to use their ignorance as an excuse, and the words "I didn't know" are their favorite words of all.  I had to work with someone like that once, and I found that I couldn't ever depend upon that person.  No matter what she was told to do, she would claim "I didn't know you wanted me to do that" the next day when the job hadn't been done.  It was one of the most frustrating professional experiences that I (and the other people involved) ever had.  Teens like to use ignorance as an excuse for not doing their chores or certain tasks, and it's important that they learn quickly that ignorance is almost never a valid excuse in real life.  In the work world, if you don't know something, you'd better find out -- that's what you're getting paid for.

How many stories have you read or movies have you seen in which the main character goes through the entire film not knowing something very important, and you watch as he or she comes closer and closer to breaking through his or her ignorance to find knowledge?  Aren't you just waiting the entire time for that to happen, and don't you just know that things will be much better when the character learns?  In The Lion King, for example, Simba almost throws away his life and his heritage based on ignorance -- he didn't know what truly happened to his father.  Believing his uncle was easier than giving himself credit and finding out the truth of the situation.

How many times have you thought someone to be a jerk (or worse) because of the way that he or she talked to you or answered one of your questions, only to find out later that something bad had just happened to that person?  Your ignorance caused you to judge harshly and sometimes to lose your own peace of mind, even though had you known the true situation, you probably would have reacted with compassion and caring.  But getting upset is easier than thinking compassionately, until you get used to the latter.

Ignorance is the easy way out, and the easy way out is rarely the best.  Fighting our own ignorance takes dedication, desire, and effort.  We have to learn, we have to keep open minds, and we have to step back from pre-judging based on religion, race, nationality, skin piercings, tattoos, or any other physical characteristics that lead us to depend upon stereotypes to figure out what a person is like.  Ignorance keeps us down, and it keeps us from getting ahead, and the only way to combat it is to search for the knowledge we need is any given situation.  Sometimes, that's as easy to do as asking a few simple questions, but other times, it takes a great deal of effort.  Either way, it's worth doing.

So don't always buy the first story or claim that you hear -- if you do, I can guarantee you that you're ignorant of an important side of the story that sounds much different than the one you've accepted.  Don't accept first impressions, for they're based on ignorance of many other aspects of a person or place that you haven't yet seen.  And please don't let prejudice ruin your life -- the more we learn in life, the more open our minds are, and the more compassionate we can be to our fellow human beings who, like us, are doing the best that they can with what they have.

Also, be wary of those people who offer information or opinions about which they know little or nothing.  Almost everyone is willing to offer an opinion about major news stories or political policies, even if they know almost nothing about the topic.  be quick to say "I don't know" if you know that you don't have the knowledge necessary to form a true opinion.  Passing on gossip or hearsay is one of the most common -- and most highly visible -- forms of ignorance around.

Ignorance is the beginning of knowledge; knowledge is the
beginning of wisdom; wisdom is the awareness of ignorance.

William Rotsler

Ignorance may be bliss, but it certainly is not freedom, except in the minds
of those who prefer darkness to light and chains to liberty. The more true
information we can acquire, the better for our enfranchisement.

Robert Hugh Benson
Intellectual Slavery


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Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep people apart.

Countess of Blessington

Ignorance is not bliss--it is oblivion.

Philip Wylie


The first reason for people's slavery is our ignorance,
and above all, our ignorance of ourselves.

George I. Gurdjieff


Nothing will divide this nation more than ignorance, and nothing
can bring us together better than an educated population.

John Sculley

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.

Will Rogers


The worst part is not in making a mistake but in trying to justify it,
instead of using it as a heaven-sent warning of our
mindlessness or our ignorance.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal


Probably the most honest "self-made person" ever was the one we
heard say:  "I got to the top the hard way -- fighting my own
laziness and ignorance every step of the way."

James Thom


There is no evil in the universe which is not the result of ignorance,
and which would not, if we were ready and willing to learn its lesson,
lead us to a higher wisdom, and then vanish away.

James Allen


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Ignorance has so many levels and ways to perpetuate itself, especially in art:
blindness, catharsis, and repetition of habitual expression.  Simply said,
ignorance is the distortion of not seeing yourself as a manifestation of God.

Peter Makena


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Ignorance has no beginning, but it has an end.
There is a beginning but no end to knowledge.

B.K.S. Iyengar

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.

Richard Bach


Ignorance is always indifferent to the truth.  Be indifferent and
habitually skeptical and you will be rated as ignorant.

Fred Van Amburgh

Our country is the best country in the world. We are swimming in prosperity
and our President is the best president in the world. We have larger apples
and better cotton and faster and more beautiful machines. This makes us the
greatest country in the world. Unemployment is a myth. Dissatisfaction is a
fable. In preparatory school America is beautiful. It is the gem of the ocean
and it is too bad. It is bad because people believe it all. Because they
become indifferent. Because they marry and reproduce
and vote and they know nothing.

John Cheever

The ignorant person marvels at the exceptional;
the wise person marvels at the common.

George D. Boardman


Ignorance makes you identify yourself with the body and your entire life
is centered in and utilized for the satisfaction of your senses--the
offspring of your lower nature.  Therefore, rise up and declare that
you are immortal spirit full of power, bliss and peace.

Papa Ramdas

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof
against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a person in everlasting
ignorance.  That principle is contempt prior to investigation.

Herbert Spencer

An ignorant person is, by the very fact of his
or her ignorance, a very dangerous person.

Hendrik W. Van Loon


The ignorant person marvels at the exceptional;
the wise person marvels at the common.

George D. Boardman

It is impossible to defeat an ignorant person in an argument.

William G. McAdoo

Ignorance deprives people of freedom because they do not
know what alternatives there are.  It is impossible
to choose to do what one has never "heard of."

Ralph B. Perry


Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. 
We don't know because we don't want to know.

Aldous Huxley