Monday, March 02, 2015

The Fine Line

Odd how one picks up small bits and pieces of poetry, songs, sayings, etc. from God knows where and carries them throughout life.

One of my favorites, probably from my grade school days when I was becoming aware of profundaties (and yes, "profundaties" is a word--it has to be: didn't I just use it?), is "He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is a fool: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him." Too bad more people don't adhere to this very helpful guideline. Which brought me to the subject for today's blog.

The gap between stupidity and wisdom is awesomely wide, whereas only the very thinest of lines separates stupidity from ignorance--a line so thin the two are often and easily confused. Ignorance is, by definition, simply a lack of knowledge, and can be overcome (and I can't help but observe that the core of the word "ignorance" is "ignore"). The true test of who is stupid and who is ignorant lies in their awareness that the line exists and in the willingness to cross it. Both stupidity and ignorance are, in effect, prison cells with unlocked doors. The ignorant may be unaware that they are free to leave; the stupid have no desire to. A fool operates on the principle of the old cliche "Don't bother me with facts; my mind's made up."

As a general rule of thumb, stupidity is defined not only by the absolute refusal to even consider any opinion that differs from their own, but by the frequently zealous denial of the right to have them. Ignorance is lethargy; stupidity is too often unapologetically evil.

In a recent exchange on Facebook, I quoted Polonius' advice to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." It evoked the following comment: "Why don't u use English?" I responded with a modern-English interpretation of the quote, to which the same person replied: "U mean be true to urself!" Yes, that's what I mean.

I did not automatically assume the questioner was stupid, but I was both mildly shocked and saddened by her ignorance. Ignorance can be cured; stupidity is terminal. And to me, the most terrifying thing is that while the line cannot be crossed from stupidity to ignorance, there is a great danger of crossing the line in the other direction. Ignorance can too easily become stupidity.

We are a nation of ignorance seemingly sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire with each succeeding generation. Studies and reports show how terrifyingly ignorant our general public is becoming. Ignorant parents tend to raise ignorant children. When a shocking number of teenagers read far below their grade level, when they do not comprehend basic math and science, when they cannot find China on a map, it is time for grave concern.

Alarm bells have been rung so loudly and so long that we are becoming deaf to them. The ignorant aren't quite sure what they mean, and the stupid neither know nor care.

The fact that stupidity has taken such a firm foothold is in large part due to its vociferous proponents, who confuse volume and intensity for validity. Listen, if you have the stomach and tolerance for it, to religious zealots and talk-show "pundits" and see if you can find even the hint of anything positive anywhere in their ranting. That there is nothing positive in stupidity is painfully self-evident.

Is there a lesson here? I'd hope it might be this: never, never confuse those who claim to know for those who do know. How can you tell them apart? Your mind may not always know, but your heart does.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook ( 

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

There was a story on a local news site over the weekend about parents who'd been asked to attend a conference at their child's/children's school. Some parents attended and others ignored it. The school sent a notice home informing those who hadn't attended that their children could be suspended if they (the parents) don't attend the make-up meeting.

One parent was quoted as saying "I don't like being threatened in no letter, especially when it comes to my child's education."

I'm still shaking my head over that.