Knowledge and ignorance

Sirajuddin Aziz
October 04, 2021

Perhaps this is one subject upon which much has been written; after scribbling a few thoughts, I wanted to give up writing this piece, but just in time, I fortunately got reminded of Dostoevsky’s words, “There is no subject so cold that something new cannot be said about it” (Diary of a writer). So, here it is - may be not entirely new, but in newer words to remain inspirational. We all need motivation. Knowledge, or nay, recognition of being ignorant is the greatest motivator.

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Perhaps this is one subject upon which much has been written; after scribbling a few thoughts, I wanted to give up writing this piece, but just in time, I fortunately got reminded of Dostoevsky’s words, “There is no subject so cold that something new cannot be said about it” (Diary of a writer). So, here it is - may be not entirely new, but in newer words to remain inspirational. We all need motivation. Knowledge, or nay, recognition of being ignorant is the greatest motivator.

“Ignorance is the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven” (Shakespear in Henry -VI). It is said ignorance and in-curiosity are two very soft pillows; never sleep upon them. The first step towards knowledge is to be curious about being ignorant. Infact, the first essay most of us wrote in second standard was on the proverb, “Knowledge is power”. Indeed, knowledge bestows upon its possessor a unique respect within society.

Thomas Gray had said, “When ignorance is bliss/tis folly to be wise”. Ignorance can be all around, in every factor and facet of life or alternatively it can relate to a few areas and subjects. We can all have lack of understanding of knowledge in all its fullness and manifestations. The common curse of mankind is folly and ignorance. The womb of monsters is ignorance. Ignorance blocks our knowledge and hence wisdom. Robert Browing called ignorance a ‘sin’.

Many of us love our ignorance, with great admiration to the extent that we end up with our foot in the mouth. Speech and expression remove all doubts of being ignorant. Brag, if you must; brag about not knowing, not falsely pretending to know. “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”.

Knowledge is a crucial quotient for development. We have seen the coinage of knowledge economy; it simply entails the growth in knowledge about the various sectors of activity that will most likely yield economic growth. How is knowledge acquired post the academic years? The answer is simple. The books read, the company and association taken, together with focused ambitions yield the best economic years. There is specialised body of knowledge and therein is a generalised menu of knowledge. Whether generalised knowledge is needed or a specific knowledge is to be taken up, will depend upon the office held. A cardiac surgeon will have a deeper knowledge of the cardiac function as against an ENT whose job is to treat what can be seen externally; while cardiac surgery remains obscure to the eye.

It is the leader’s job to find the potential within an organisation of people who are both knowledgeable and consequently competent. Placing square pegs in round holes doesn’t create a workable team. The recent changes, which occur in rapidity, at Islamabad are an indication that either knowledge or competence is compromised in the first instance of their appointment as special advisers. Even the Knights of King Arthur at his round table, had unique knowledge and talents; and nowhere in the history it is suggested that the nine gems of Akbar, the Mughal Ruler, were boot lickers! They were known for their knowledge and competence. Each distinctly renowned in their chosen fields of study ranging from finance, poetry to music!

The lack of knowledge or competency of a political leader is covered up by the talented bureaucrats or even a cousin! But, if the bureaucrats have arrived into positions out of nepotism, then only divine intervention can help. Leaders must acquire knowledge as a major pursuit. Knowledge has to be firstly hunted and tamed later, for effective use, while going forward. Knowledge permits us to sail through the turbulent waves that keep rising, as part of life and living.

Pride and ignorance make great friends. They thrive upon each other's inadequacies, pride or arrogance dims the light of knowledge. When Socrates was told, he was a wise man, he expressed surprise and remained ignorant of this fact – and that made him the most intellectually humble person. Knowledge has no established relationship with either riches or wealth. Poverty is its best friend. Knowledge is for the common good and shouldn't be sold in market, lest it falls to becoming ultimately a victim to market forces of demand and supply.

Whose job it is to create a learning environment? Providing knowledgeable workers is to whose advantage? Obviously, the organisation’s performance and productivity increases, as a result of the focus on learning and development managers must pay attention to removing incapacities of their team mates. Those ill-advised managers who surround themselves with ignorant colleagues basically are ensuring the disaster in the future. Incompetence will with speed find its acceptance beyond a particular group.

Much knowledge has potential to make men mad and such seek self glorification. If knowledge and illegality thrive in the breast of an evil man, it is a sword in the hands of a lunatic. Uncultivated lands have wild flowers and shrubs blooming, but an uncultivated mind is a breeding ground for negative bushes to grow and envelope the pattern of thinking and action.

Knowledge, is unfettered and fears no boundaries, whether these be real or imagined. Instead to be in pursuit of various desires, the thirst and quest for knowledge must remain a pre-dominantly daily activity. Doubt is the key to knowledge. It is said that ignorance, followed by intellect and wisdom, will usher an enabling environment for organisational performance. Lord Chesterfield in, Letters to a son, says: “Knowledge is comfortable and necessary retreat and shelter for us in advanced stage; and if we don’t plant it while young, it will give us no shade when we grow old”. Knowledge is a perpetual insurance cover against being waylaid in a career.

There is a Nigerian saying or proverb, I learnt when I spent some time there, “Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse”.

For a leader / manager it is within their ambit to create an environment of learning and development. Knowledge builds character.


The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist



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