We're All Ignorant About Something

We're All Ignorant About Something
Alicia Escaño Hidalgo

Written and verified by the psychologist Alicia Escaño Hidalgo.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

There’s an irrational belief in our culture that goes something like: “I must be competent and show intelligence and wisdom in everything I do.” In other words, we should be infallible, at least in the eyes of others. We aren’t allowed to make mistakes.

People who take on too many duties feel an intense fear of seeming inferior, ignorant or less intelligent. They feel that if others perceive that they’re not good enough in any area of knowledge, in some skill or ability, they’ll be rejected. And this is something intolerable and generates a great deal of anxiety for them.

If we reflect on this, we’ll quickly realize that this is an absurd and counterproductive fear. It’s true that showing certain skills, qualities or wisdom is gratifying. When others admire us, compliment or congratulate us for something we did well, we feel great about ourselves. We feel proud.

It’s one thing to enjoy praise, but another if our self-esteem is tied to how intelligent, cultured or skilled we are. Our self-esteem shouldn’t depend on this.

woman by the sea

Self-esteem should never depend on superficial values, physical things, intelligence, successes, achievements or on the acceptance of others. Because these values are very easy to lose in any given moment and, therefore, if you lose them, your self-esteem will go downhill with them. It will make you a very vulnerable person.

There will always be someone more handsome than you, smarter, more cultured, more successful… Therefore, if you make your self-esteem and self-worth depend on others, you’ll be emotionally weak. Discomfort and the non-acceptance of oneself will take over your life.

Where does this belief come from? 

Unfortunately, from a young age we are taught that we have to “study hard,” “be someone in life,” “be the best,” because if we don’t…Bad things could happen! For example: not being the smartest person in a conversation, not having a dignified job, not being successful… what will others think? We’d be condemned to a mediocre life! What a shame!

Imagine how a child feels when they are taught these ideas. He’ll grow up worried about being number one and constantly showing that he is worthy. He’ll decide to compete with others to “be the best,” instead of competing with himself to challenge himself and have fun. The child will grow up anxiously and will perceive as a threat the fact that his worth isn’t acknowledged… Overwhelming, isn’t it?

To dismantle a taught belief, we have to offer ourselves arguments that will convince us that what we’re thinking is totally irrational, surreal, absurd. Therefore, we need to reject it and replace it with healthier beliefs. Some arguments you can use are the following:

  • Intelligence is not the most important value: just as we’ve said before, to be or not be ignorant, intelligent or cultured isn’t very important. We can live perfectly while not being very intelligent, and that doesn’t take any value away from you as a person. The true value that matters is love. Love for life, for oneself and for others.
  • We’re all ignorant about something: we’re all ignorant about something, we just ignore different things, and this is very true. A doctor may know a lot about medicine, but not have a clue about computers. An electrician may have great knowledge about electricity, but he’s probably pretty bad at photography…
watercolor sad woman

The thing is we strive to be perfect and know so much, until we reach this imaginary goal that doesn’t exist. It only exists in other minds. Let’s accept what’s real: we’re all ignorant about an infinity of things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The world keeps turning.

Our relationships with others will get better: We think that by showing that we’re successful, intelligent or wise, we’ll win others’ appreciation, and this may be true. Specially when this appreciation comes from empty people who have the same poor scale of values.

Thankfully, there are a lot of people in the world who truly appreciate authentic people, that show themselves as they are. They appreciate people that admit that they’re not good at everything or perfect, but that they’re willing to have fun learning. These are the truly heroic people.

Evidently, if we go through life with this mentality, our relationships with others will improve. We won’t go into debates or silly arguments in order to find the truth or be right. We’ll simply enjoy ourselves and learn along the way, since we all have something to learn.

Let yourself seem ignorant and you’ll see that nothing bad will happen: Are you afraid to raise your hand in class out of fear of seeming ignorant? Don’t you see that if you don’t, you’ll truly be ignorant?  These paradoxical effects are typical in psychology: out of fear of seeming dumb, I end up dumb in the end.

We should ignore this fear that tells us that something bad will happen if we don’t know how to answer a question or if we fail. Nothing is going to happen, you’ll go on living. Thus, dare to do all of those thing you’re embarrassed or afraid to do: ask questions, raise your hand in class, answer questions and learn what you don’t know along the way.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.