Ignorance Is The Beginning Of Wisdom


The other night I stumbled across an interview Larry King did with Joel Osteen.

If you read my blog you know that I am a huge fan of Osteen's work. As a Jewish person his preaching enriches my faith, bringing hope, positivity, and trust in God.

Clearly Osteen is a spiritually knowledgeable person. But when a viewer, and then King, asked him about whether Christians are privileged in God's judgment over people of other faiths, he said:

"I don't know....only God knows that."

I was sort of startled and dumbfounded at this answer. I think King was too because he asked Osteen again and again to clarify his response. And again and again Osteen said, essentially, that he can only speak the truth as he sees it. That's it.

It occurred to me right then and there that Osteen's answer is the definition of wisdom.

Smart people are able to be ignorant.

Stupid people pretend to have all the answers.

Thousands of years ago (second century CE) there was a Jewish rabbi named Rabbi Akiva. Fascinating information here about how he, too, admitted ignorance and in the process became brilliant.

Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd who came from a family of converts to Judaism. He lacked a "pedigree" and was himself "a completely unlettered and ignorant Jew."

His wife Rachel loved him so much that she stayed with him even as her father "disowned" her.

She sent him away to an important yeshiva to study Torah.

There he committed himself to learning even though he felt extremely daunted. There he was, a middle-aged man who knew nothing and yet seemingly had to learn everything.

His inspiration was a simple stone.

The stone had been "worn away by the drops of water that were constantly falling on it."

The Rabbi decided that his brain was no different than the stone. He kept trying.

Ultimately he came back from yeshiva "revered as the greatest scholar of his time with tens of thousands of students" and was accepted by Rachel's father.

Rabbi Akiva was not afraid to be ignorant. And in his honesty he became a hero and a martyr of the Jewish people. Ultimately the Romans arrested him and tortured him to death.

Conversely, stupid people pretend to have all the answers and they try to make you think they have them too.

To this the Buddha once said, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it...unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

I am not familiar with other faiths very much, but I can imagine there are teachings to that effect in Islam and elsewhere. 

The bottom line is, it's great to learn new things, but at the end of the day it's just as important to know that you are ultimately ignorant. Like Albert Einstein once said, "If we knew what we were doing it would not be called research, would it?"

No matter how high you rise in the career ladder, it's OK to admit that you don't know everything - or even perhaps anything at all.

Ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo by Brioso via Flickr