“We are only as blind as we want to be.”
I was not always the person that I am today. I was not always a critical thinker or viewed the world the way I now see it. I didn’t always question things, but I was once rather comfortable with the status quo and naively holding on to certain ideas without ever thoroughly engaging on them. I eventually become tired, and discontent with explaining my world-views from a single point of view of my Christian or religious background, and life also didn’t allow me to be comfortable in my narrow-mindedness.
I have, therefore, compiled a list of principles that played a huge role in becoming the socially aware individual that I am and continue to grow into becoming. These are some of the things that have helped and continue to help me in overcoming my ignorance regarding many pertinent issues. For the sake of this context, I will tackle ignorance based on the lack of knowledge in social issues. But these can apply to many other spheres of knowledge, and they are as follows:
1. Be humble to accept that you do not know everything.
Intellectual arrogance is such a dangerous place to assume. By intellectual arrogance, I mean the overly certain assumption one has that they have reached the ultimate peak of knowledge. Often such individuals see themselves as the custodians of knowledge and are hardly ever open to being corrected because they have assumed the authority of being the be all and end all of the knowledge in a particular area. Assuming such a position is the fastest way to embarrassing yourself by saying things that have no substance and potentially cause harm to other individuals. No human being can ever claim to know it all, and that’s why learning is a lifetime journey that never stops.
2. Be completely open to correction: Your default mode of thought should always be “I could be wrong”.
Many of us do not like this because it means acknowledging that we are wrong. But correction is a significant element of overcoming ignorance. By allowing yourself to be corrected, you are indirectly facilitating the process of knowing more and holding perceived ideas that are more grounded on relevant facts. The greatest hindrance to being a knowledgeable individual is having convinced yourself that everything you believe or hold on to is correct. We live in an imperfect world that consequently propagates flawed ideas that we also tend to hold on to. When you think everything you believe is correct you fall into the trap of ruthlessly defending ideas and beliefs blindly, and any sort of blind loyalty is dangerous, and this includes loyalty to ideas and beliefs.
3. Ask questions that will open you up to find out more.
Like I said, blind loyalty to ideas is lethal. Are you always questioning the things you believe? Or do you unquestioningly hold on to the ideas and beliefs that your parents, church leaders and society have passed on to you and continue to do so? Question what you believe in and dedicate yourself to finding out the answers. If you cannot logically explain why you believe in something or it’s something that you’ve learnt to rehearse then that’s a sign for you dig further. Ask those difficult, uncomfortable questions and don’t run away from them.
4. Actively sit and chat with people who hold different worldviews to yours.
The beauty of learning is realising how massive and vast this world is, and how equally diverse people’s ideas on life are. I know the social norm is to stick with people who hold the same views as us and hold the same beliefs as us, but that narrows your perception on the world. But when you surround yourself with people who perhaps contradict how you view the world, one of two things can happen:
1. you become more rooted in what you believe in,
2. or, you can assimilate or discard your existing or old beliefs based on the new information that you’ve gathered.
5. Listen and avoid getting personal in discussions.
You do not always have to lead discussions. I think a lot of us have lost the art of engaging in vigorous, healthy discussion and debate. If someone disagrees with you, you get personal and start attacking the individual, completely steering away from what you were talking about from the onset. We want to be the ones who are dominating the conversation in hopes to win, and I don’t think that’s what healthy debate entails. It’s not about who is wrong or right but all parties in conversation listening to each other and getting deeper into why the one party holds on to the ideas they hold and if necessary, asking thought provoking questions to see different aspects of the topic at hand.
6. If you don’t understand something, keep quiet and find out more i.e. research more.
Everyone wants to have an opinion, to prove that they know more or understand better, but often our ignorance ends up showing. One of the things that make me grateful for social media is the great, thought-provoking conversations that come up. Many of these conversations have made me aware of lived experiences that I was completely oblivious to, and that has propelled me into reading further into topics that I’ve consciously or unconsciously ignored. And my willingness to acknowledge that I don’t know or understand certain things has opened me to coming across relevant, enlightening knowledge. So if a discussion comes up that you are not clued up on, don’t rush to give unfounded ideas. Rather find out more and understand why what is being said is at the forefront.
7. Read! And read some more!
Almost from the first few minutes of talking to someone, I can tell if they read or not and if they do read, what sort of books they read. Do not just read books that affirm your mode of thinking, dare yourself to read books that will threaten your most valuable ideas. Back in my Christian days, 98% of the books I read were Christian books. But now on my quest for knowledge, I have committed myself to reading literature that makes me question the very fibre of all that I firmly believed in. It has made me a more well-rounded individual who can discuss various issues from different contexts. And herein lies the value of reading, it not just helps you form and question opinions, but it also introduces you to different worlds, and even if you do not have the answers, you can make informed commentary and create conversation on a plethora of topics.
8. Have several sources of information and not just one.
I would even further on say, constantly question the relevance and validity of those sources. The danger of only having one source of information is that it opens you up to indoctrination and consequently a very narrowed view of life. I can attest to this. Before my quest to knowledge, my main and probably only sources of information was the Bible and my pastors. There is nothing inherently wrong with that but the issue is that it limited me to only one interpretation of the world. By virtue of someone holding an esteemed position in the church and them quoting certain verses, I would assume that what they are saying has to be true, without ever truly questioning the validity of what is being communicated and therefore also subjecting me to one individual’s understanding of assumed sacred text.
9. Do not be attached to ideas: Remember, you will not always hold on to the same beliefs throughout your life.
Do not be afraid of a personal ideological metamorphosis. It is important for one to learn to be comfortable and unthreatened when your closely held views are challenged. Make room for contrasting ideas. Allow yourself to grow and change your mind as you go through life and encounter new knowledge. You should actually be worried if you still view the world the same way that you did five or even ten years ago, its a sign that you are not learning and expanding, and you really need to do something about this. It’s okay to change your mind, to let go and take up new ideas and beliefs at will because after all, I think part of the human experience is the quest to understanding life and the world better. So don’t condemn or be afraid of taking up ideas that threaten to shatter the elaborate identities you have created out of old ideas and beliefs.
These are principles that I’ve used in my own life and continue to use. Even when I seem to know more and be assumed to be an individual who is “intelligent” or a “critical thinker”, I try my level best not to be impatient with or look down on those who may not know what I know. As we all learn at a different pace and I understand that I have the privilege of having access to certain knowledge systems and mediums that many others may not.
May we always be open to learning with each other and lovingly guiding each other to the truth. And perhaps creating a society that holds on to ideas and beliefs that make our world a more beautiful place to exist in could become a reality.
So may we commit and dedicate ourselves to intellectual growth and expansion in all its possible capacities.
Because, hashtag — Intelligence Is Sexy.