In a world that reveres educated insight and allows the layperson access to a wealth of information, social interaction has become a breeding ground for displays of scholarship by all members of the community. For example: the practice of using big words to sound educated and procure a sense of reliability or validity. My least favorite "big" word? Ignorant. The pesky, three-syllabled word plagues our political conversation with considerate consistency and little accuracy.
The word ignorant is so often thrown around as if it were decidedly insulting. It has become synonymous for a variety of unattractive characteristics including immoral, nonsensical, and our personal favorite, closed-minded. However, the word ignorant is defined by Merriam Webster as:
- a : destitute of knowledge or education <an ignorant society>; also : lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified <parents ignorant of modern mathematics> b : resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or intelligence <ignorant errors>
- : unaware, uninformed
Too frequently I notice the word is misused as an adjective to describe the state of being unwilling to concede the validity or importance of that which they are indeed informed. In other words, we wrongly label those with deliberate disregard towards facts as "ignorant". We wrongly label those who assign value to, and prioritize information differently than us, as "ignorant". In these circumstances, what really angers us, is negligence.
A negligent person is:
- a : marked by or given to neglect especially habitually or culpably b : failing to exercise the care expected of a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances
- : marked by a carelessly easy manner
When we are concerned about or angered by an individual's negligence, it is because they are demonstrating a sense of carelessness or disregard to something we regard with import. The problem is that importance is subjective. The development of values is independent to those around us and specific to our socialization. Our own consciousness and reservoir of experiences is so central to-- in fact, inseparable-- from our human experience and identity that it is often difficult for us to understand and respect what motivates and guides the beliefs of those that don't agree with us. Naturally, an approach to opposition might be with a sense that, "They don't agree with me. I'm right. Therefore they are wrong." followed by an argument that is reasonable according to our own values. The problem with this approach is in the assumption that there exists a universal moral code. When our adversaries show resilience and an inability to understand our school of thought, the space created for conversation may be filled with hostility, as if it were a successful way of combating their "ignorance".
It is easier to dismiss any challenge to our beliefs than acknowledge them, reflect on them, and proceed with productive discussion. Those with an aversion to being "wrong", will abstain from activities that require the vulnerability of their beliefs. Closed-mindedness, as demonstrated by the inability or unwillingness to participate in an educated discussion when your beliefs are challenged, suggests to me that the foundation of your beliefs are fragile or unsound. An individual secure in their beliefs and the significance of said beliefs, should not feel threatened by a challenge. The diverse nature of our people's beliefs necessitates the productive discussion of controversial topics if there is any hope in establishing and enforcing law and policy. If we do not learn how to do this properly, divided we will stand and united we will fall.