At my high school, we did not have honors classes, so for most of my high school career, I was at the top of my classes. When I joined the Honors Program in college, I was among the people that had always had good grades and easily understood things as well. So of course I felt the need to assert myself as the smartest person I could be. I soon learned this was not necessary.
Many people believe that ignorance is a weakness. They enjoy proving how much they know and how superior they are to others because of their knowledge. Most people wish they knew everything, or they think they already do. For me, unending knowledge would be an incredible weakness. Ignorance can be a powerful way to develop relationships. I remember when I first came to my reading and writing class in college, I wanted everyone to think I was smart, and I wanted to prove that I could do things others couldn’t. But while doing this, I wasn’t enjoying myself. We all do this at some point. We try to show how much better we are than others. But no one else wants to watch us do this, and it’s an incredible turn off in any kind of relationship.
In conversations with other students in my Honors Program classes, they tried to assert themselves as being over-intelligent or spoke too condescendingly, and I immediately felt defensive toward them. I felt better when I could talk to people and feel we were both on the same level, that each of us would be able to learn something from the other. Mutual ignorance is what drives healthy relationships, because ignorance and striving for knowledge can bring people together to learn together.
When we did group projects, there would usually be one leader in the group. If this person refused to listen to anyone’s ideas or assumed they knew more than the group, they didn’t make themselves look smart, or more experienced, it didn’t even make us want to listen. We figured that if they didn’t think they could learn from us, then they probably couldn’t do anything for us either. It was when the leader encouraged everyone to contribute to new learning, that learning actually happened and we appreciated their involvement.
Even if one person truly does know more than another, they will probably be able to find something where the knowledge is more even. I have friends in classes that do much better in the class than I, and I can go to them for help, but we both know that there are things I can do better than they and that there are some things that neither of us know much about. These are the times when relationships are strongest. When certain knowledge is needed, people can work together to achieve the learning together. This makes us feel more successful, because we can share in the joy from the accomplishment and from the journey.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.