Ignorance: comfortable, not blissful

An old adage that says ignorance is bliss. Nassim Taleb, in his book Fooled by Randomness, suggests that it is important that we accept “the lack of certainty in our knowledge” and that we develop methods for dealing with our ignorance.

I’m more inclined to embrace Mr. Taleb’s view of ignorance. My experience is that ignorance is only blissful until what I don’t know slaps me in the face. When that happens bliss quickly becomes pain. Or, at least, my memories of the painful experiences are more vivid than their more pleasant counterparts.

How often have we uttered the phrase “I wish I had known that ahead of time”? Most of us would answer “Too often!”

Fortunately, Taleb’s insight can ease that pain. The keys are to embrace what we don’t know and to trust in our ability to learn and adapt.


The dictionary definition of ignorance is “a lack of knowledge.” Ignorance is something few of us want to admit. Yet, a realistic examination of our knowledge indicates that what we don’t know is millions of times greater than what we do know.

Take a moment and imagine the Library of Congress. Now imagine how much space would be required to house your knowledge. All of mine would occupy no more than a few inches of space on one shelf…and I’m probably being generous in that assessment.

Instead of being disheartened by that fact, I’m thrilled! For their is much that I can learn…and I have supreme confidence in my ability to learn and apply what I’ve learned to everyday life.

Taleb on bias

Taleb takes this perception of knowledge one step further and suggests that our “knowledge” is based on cause/effect relationships we created that can’t withstand critical, logical analysis. In other words, we become certain about “knowledge” we possess that is based upon biased thinking.

In his book he cites a bias that many of us have, that is that hard work and perseverance are essential to success. He acknowledges that they are, but that hard work and perseverance alone doesn’t assure success.

As soon as I read that I thought “millennial.” Many millennials work hard and persevere, yet they feel that these efforts alone will produce the desired result. So much so that they are closed to ideas from people who are more experienced and have enjoyed great success.

Their bias, created by having been told for decades that effort not results matter, make them certain that hard work and perseverance are enough.

Acceptance and comfort

The more I read Mr. Taleb’s perceptions, the more I realized that one of the keys to my comfort in my ability to deal with anything that comes my way is the result of two things:

  1. My willingness to acknowledge my lack of knowledge.
  2. My ability to learn and adapt.

As soon as I embraced my ignorance…without being critical of myself…the more open my mind became. This openness accelerates my learning and my ability to adapt what I learn to the situations I face.

New situations don’t frighten me because I know that I have always found a way to deal with any situation I’ve faced. I may not have gotten their on the first iteration, the second or even the fifth, but I always found a solution to the problem I faced.

I’m not alone in this ability. If you take a moment and ask yourself “When in my life have I faced a situation in which I’ve had no background or experience…and failed to produce a result?” If you’re being honest with yourself, the answer is “never.”

As you embrace the fact that you have the capacity to deal with anything that comes your way, you’ll find it easier to embrace your ignorance…as I have. And to trust in your ability to learn and adapt…which is the real source of your power.

For you

Each day remind yourself that your ignorance affords you the opportunity to learn and grow…something we all enjoy. Also remind yourself that you have, and continue to, deal effectively with anything that comes your way.

As you embrace these realities you’ll feel less stress, less anxiety, less fear and a great deal more joy and confidence. Isn’t that a life worth living?

For our kids

The earlier that your kids learn these lessons the more years of joyful living they’ll experience. Can you imagine a greater gift? I can’t.

Use the tips above to help your kids embrace rather than fear their ignorance. Then help them see that they’ve already demonstrated their ability to deal with anything that comes their way.

Finally, live it yourself. Kids emulate the behaviors of the adults in their lives. You’ll all enjoy richer, fuller lives.

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