Being Ignorant vs Being Dumb vs Being Stupid

Photo from New Old Stock,

This is, as most of the content on my site, my opinion and how I use words for my own clarification more than anything. I share because a) if you hear me using these terms, it is sometimes helpful to know what I mean by the words I use, and b) I feel like the ideas behind the words are also important.

I think most of us are familiar with ignorance, as defined as simply not knowing something. Everyone on the earth is ignorant in at least some, and usually many, many things. Sometimes it’s an entire category of knowledge (including, often, even the knowledge that this category even exists), and sometimes it’s certain aspects or echelons of categories of knowledge. There’s lots of reasons why someone might be ignorant. Usually it’s because they haven’t had the experience (either through education or lived experience) and/or the mental capability to absorb and understand the knowledge in question. For instance, someone might have the capabilities to be a musical or mathematical genius, but not have the opportunities for the education or experience necessary to gain the knowledge. Or, a person might have opportunities to have learned something, but not be capable of processing the information for it to become knowledge–say, an infant living for a few months in a foreign country around another language.
Ignorance, in my opinion, is not inherently bad. Nobody but God can know everything, so sometimes we need to be a little easier on ourselves and others when they are ignorant.

The next appellation is dumb. Dumb I define a little differently, specifically, as someone who is ignorant not because of lack of opportunity or capability, but because the opportunity requires a change of patterns, life, mindset, or applying effort. Dumb doesn’t require a person to be selfish or lazy (though those traits can help), but it usually describes people who are so satisfied with the status quo that any change or effort is loathsome, and therefore avoided. The internet is full of well-meaning but dumb people. I don’t despise them, but I don’t respect them much, either.

Lastly comes the stupid people. Those whom I also call the Willfully Ignorant. These are those people who, when they happen upon data which does not wholly support their point of view or what they ‘know,’ become emotionally upset, sometimes even angry. Learning and working to eradicate ignorance does NOT usually require wholly disposing of every tidbit of knowledge one already has, but the stupid people will claim that it does, and that the new information is seeking to entirely supplant what they already believe. These people also believe only what they can see with their own eyes and comprehend with the limited reasoning and logistical skills of a mind atrophied by being held in a tiny, thick-walled shell all its life.

When a stupid person from one side of a belief runs into a stupid person from another side of the belief, all hell breaks loose. Truth is irrelevant, because Stupidity is only concerned with proving it is right and the Other is wrong. At best, the factions separate, ‘agreeing to disagree’ like everything in the world can be labeled ‘opinion’ (hint: that’s not true) and they can shut their brain back up in its little bomb shelter while the ‘enemy’ does the same. Nothing gained. Nothing changed, except lack of respect and civility.

Wisdom is different. Wisdom can include ignorance–after all, everyone is ignorant in at least a few things–but it recognizes the ignorance, owns it, and is perfectly willing and able to say “I don’t know that” and “I would like to understand more.” Wisdom is better at recognizing what is opinion, what is fact, and what is an incomplete fact because of a limited perspective (and we ALL have limited perspectives). Wisdom is better at taking the knowledge that it has–which it has more of, because it seeks it and is neither ashamed of its ignorance nor connects any of its own worth with a belief which later proves to be not quite right–and understanding how it fits and applies in life and the world, which is where Truth comes from.

Wisdom also knows that, while you can observe the dumb or the stupid to learn, you don’t argue with them. Because Wisdom recognizes that, while knowledge and understanding are important, they are not the goal of the dumb or the stupid, and Wisdom can never be forced on anyone.

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