How to Deal with my Ignorance and Stupidity

The best way to get rid of my ignorance is to expose it.

I was always taught that ignorance is not knowing something because the person has never had the chance to learn it, whereas stupidity is when a person is very slow at learning things, or perhaps can’t learn some things at all.

Ignorance is nothing to be embarrassed by; there is way too much knowledge in the world to know all of it. I’m pretty smart, yet there are still many topics on which I am ignorant — car mechanics, quantum physics, and industrial sewing, to name just a few.

I often joke that I am so ignorant on so many topics that people could write thousands of books on all the things I don’t know, and indeed they have.

Because I was never told growing up that I was stupid, I’m not ashamed of my ignorance. When people use a word I don’t know, or bring up a topic I’ve never heard of or don’t know much about, I feel fine asking them what that word means, or pestering them with questions about the topic. (The exception to this is when doing so would disrupt the flow of conversation too much; then I just listen closely to see what I can gather from context, and maybe save my questions for later.)

If I were ashamed of not knowing something, I would try to hide that I didn’t know it, and by hiding my ignorance I’d be perpetuating it.

When I admit I don’t know something, usually whomever I’m talking to explains it, so by exposing my ignorance I’m allowing it to dissolve.

This is one of the reasons I think it’s so important not to call people stupid for not knowing things…if people think they’re stupid for not knowing something, they’ll be more likely to cover up their ignorance, believing it to be stupidity, which just misses a learning opportunity.

Ignorance is just a kind of innocence; nobody knows everything. If somebody thinks they know everything, that might well be a sign of stupidity, although even then I would argue that it’s possible they are just ignorant that much knowledge exists outside of what they know. When I was 14, I was pretty sure I knew everything, and I think that came more from lack of experience than stupidity.

Even stupidity, although frustrating, doesn’t mean learning is impossible…I used to wonder why I made the same mistakes over and over. I would laugh at myself for being the opposite of Forrest Gump — he was a man of low IQ who invariably made good choices, while I am a woman of above-average IQ who has made plenty of poor choices. In the ‘stupid is as stupid does’ paradigm, I could be considered stupid (at least at times) no matter how high my IQ.

Then I remembered toddlers and children. They don’t hear the ABCs one time and then know them forever (unless they are in the very small minority of humans with photographic memory) — they have to repeat them over and over. Same with multiplication tables, reading, writing, acquiring language, even learning to wiggle, crawl, and walk — it all takes lots and lots of repetition.

This makes me feel better about all the things I have to repeat over and over before I learn them…situations that come up where I think, “Really? I’m going through this again? Shouldn’t I have learned this already?” I do my best now not to ‘should’ on myself, and just accept that it’s going to take a little more repetition to learn this particular lesson.

So my goal is to expose my ignorance, and have patience with my stupidity, and trust that I’m a work in progress, and still will be on the day that I die. Learning never has to stop, and even if I can’t keep up (they’re writing books faster than I can read them, and I was born behind) I’m going to enjoy the experience!

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