Each one of us must have heard the expression “Ignorance is bliss”. Now what does this mean? What is the context in which this expression is true? Let us see some situations in which this expression is likely to be true:
Avoidance of potentially bad news:
A patient has been diagnosed to be terminally ill and has only a few months to live. The doctor privately reveals the undesirable diagnosis to his close family members. The family members, after some discussion, conclude not to tell the patients about his illness. Their motive is that, by not knowing about the illness, the person would not get into depression and thus further accelerate his death. He would spend whatever time he has left being relatively happy.
Over time, society has become very specialized. We have doctors, engineers, business people, teachers, lawyers, various technicians, farmers, mill workers etc. Each one of us trains many years developing skills in a specific area. We are very good at what we do, but remain relatively ignorant of other areas of speciality. Most people are glad that they do not have to learn farming in order to feed their stomach. Likewise, its nice that we do not have to attend medical college to treat ourselves when we get sick. We can simply go to a doctor and he will take care of restoring our health. In the same way, business outsource what is not their core expertise to other businesses that can do the same work more efficiently and cheaply. They would rather have someone else do work that is not part of their core expertise – they are happy to remain ignorant of how that work is done, as long as the work meet their quality and budget requirements.
Thus in the above cases, we saw examples where not knowing something was preferable. It saved us unnecessary trouble from having to put effort in order to learn something, or the potential of emotional pain thanks to learning about some bad news. Despite these examples that justify being ignorant, most of us intuitively know that “Knowledge is power”. We would rather not be ignorant. Most of us has had past experiences where we have suffered thanks to not knowing something. Let us take examples of life areas, where “Ignorance leads to suffering, and knowledge leads to joy”
This is an area where each one of us would readily acknowledge that “Ignorance is bliss” is not true. Every employer is looking for the best in their employees. The more skilled and knowledgeable we are, the more we are likely to thrive in business, amidst cut-throat competition. A successful career requires years of training and continuous learning. The same goes for businesses. New products and services are launched each day, and a company that is not able to keep up with its competition eventually goes out of business.
For hundreds of years, smoking tobacco was very popular, until studies were published linking smoking to lung cancer. Since then, awareness of the harmful effects of smoking has increased, leading to a decline of the use of tobacco. Most people who suffered and died of lung cancer in unawareness of the harmful affects of smoking would have preferred to know about the harmful effects of cigarettes, rather than suffer and die in ignorance. They would readily agree that “Ignorance is not bliss”.
Also, thanks to advancement in medical technology, a blood test can now revel so much about our health than a 100 years back. The test results reveals valuable information that we can choose to act on, which we would have been completely ignorant some generations back. It is no wonder that with the advancement of medical technology, the overall life-expectancy of people is increasing. Knowledge thus leads to increased well-being.
Most of the problems we have in relationships is due to lack of skill in dealing with people. Ignorance of the psychology of the opposite sex leads to many issues in which people who were once in love make each other very miserable. People give themselves and others a lot of pain due to not knowing how to deal with their own emotions and with the people close to them. Most people, out of ignorance, start by blaming outside situations and people for their misery, until they learn the skills to form successful relationships, romantic or otherwise. Relationships is thus an area where ignorance brings a lot of pain, whereas knowledge brings a lot of joy.
Many people are ignorant about money in one or more ways. Some people leave money on the table despite having the desire to earn more, perhaps due to ignorance of their own market value or lack of negotiation skills. Some others are not able to spend what they earn wisely, causing financial problems. Some others are not good at investing and making it grow. Ignorance of financial skills thus tends to unfavorable situations, and knowledge eases the pain, and brings us the financial security that most people long for.
While we can outsource our work, we cannot outsource our life – no one else can live our life for us. Ignorance of our own self thus affects each one of us adversely. According to all religions and spiritual traditions, it is ignorance of our true nature that leads to suffering. According to all great spiritual masters, we think that we are the ego – a limited entity, identified with our body, our mind, our intellect, and with the things we do, things we possess, and what others think of us. This identification with our ego is one ignorance we all have, which leads to utmost suffering. The enlightened masters on the other hand, are forever in a state of bliss, thanks to being firmly established in the knowledge of the self. Clearly out here, it is knowledge, not ignorance that leads to bliss.
Although most of us may acknowledge that “Ignorance leads to suffering, and knowledge leads to joy”, the challenge is that we are ignorant of our ignorance! We do not know what we have yet to learn. Only someone who knows what we do not know can teach us what we are ignorant of, and that too only if we are humble enough to accept our ignorance and seek knowledge. How can we find out whether we are ignorant of something? One way to gauge our level of ignorance is to take a look at any life area and see how much suffering or joy we experience in that life area. If we are experiencing pain and suffering, chances are that there is something we have yet to learn, which if learnt, will remove the suffering in that area and bring us more joy. Knowledge thus is the only prescription that alleviates suffering.
Inspired by Sudhir Krishnan.
- Self-Improvement ~Two Basic Principles. (mediumsworld.wordpress.com)
- Why is my life not improving in spite of reading these inspirations? (joannewellington.wordpress.com)