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Zak of All Trades: What's in a word?: 'Ignorance'

June 6, 2014

One of the words that I think has been most misunderstood definition-wise growing up has been the word ignorant.

Ironically, I think that most of us are a bit ignorant of its definition, and because of that, we come off as a bit ignorant — at least by its perceived definition.

• ignorance : lack of knowledge, information, or education; the state of being ignorant

On a daily basis, at least a dozen people do something to me that I would consider ignorant by the definition I grew up using.

If someone slams the door shut just as I'm about to walk through it, I say they're ignorant.

Someone cuts me off in traffic without even acknowledging that they ever saw me, and I'm sure that they're ignorant.

Or, someone calls the office with an uninformed complaint without any knowledge of the workings behind the particular situation that they're so concerned about.

And now, in my opinion, we find the core of the ignorance confusion.

Ignorance — as we perceive it — would best be described by using a phrase made famous by the television show "Full House" when I was growing up.

The middle sister, Stephanie, was known for saying, "How rude!" And it is that expression that we could closely correlate with ignorance when we think of it.

But the English Dictionary definition listed above — and the only definition listed for this word — doesn't say anything about being rude at all. It simply talks about an ignorant person as one who lacks knowledge, information or education.

In the case of the rude complainer, both definitions of ignorant — both the perceived one and the actual one — really fit.

The caller is ignorant by the "how rude" definition because he is acting out of line for what the normal societal standards call for by being rude. But he's also acting ignorantly because of his lack of knowledge that goes on behind the situation. And therefore, he is truly ignorant.

I can see how we morphed the definition to fit those who are being rude, but the truth of the matter is that ignorance comes from a lack of knowledge — a lack of "knowing any better."

So, most people who are being rude are actually doing it because it's what they've always done or because they don't know that they shouldn't be doing it.

I'm sure there are exceptions. In my experience, I have had run-ins with a few folks who I think were truly "how rude" ignorant. They knew what they were doing was wrong, and yet, they continued to do it because there was some sort of gain in it for them.

Ignorant isn't really the word I'd use to describe these folks, though. In fact, the word I'd use would likely be four letters and wouldn't make it to the press, so I won't even type it.

But there really are folks on the other end of the ignorance spectrum — the true definition end. Some people, I believe, just don't know any better.

Whether their parents never taught them right from wrong or they learned wrong from their parents or they just weren't good learners, some folks truly don't know any better.

Two examples come to mind in which I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. The first is one that drives me absolutely insane: Littering.

Growing up, I was often a part of a Boy Scouts team or one put together by my family to pick up litter along the roadways.

We lived in the country, and folks seemed to have no qualms with throwing their trash out the window and on to our property out of a moving vehicle.

Now, most of us have the common sense to admit that littering — throwing out my trash so that someone else has to pick it up — is wrong. And yet, some people must still be ignorant enough to do it, because every litter crew I've seen collecting lately has had plenty of bags full to dispose of.

Littering is ignorant in both senses of the word. It's rude to litter, because it is self-centered to think that others should clean up your trash or to think that the world is your trash can.

But it's also uneducated to litter. Some folks do it without a second thought. I've seen it. And I've made folks who were passengers in my car go back and pick up the gum wrapper they threw out the window while we were driving down the road. But that doesn't mean it's OK to do it. It just means that folks need to be educated.

Will some people still litter? I'm sure. But that's because there are
both kinds of ignorant. But we continue to hope that with education — I know I learned in school that littering was wrong — and consequences for their actions — like a $300 fine — the littering problem will lessen until it vanishes.

A second ignorant act I witness on a regular basis — even more frequently than littering — is returning your shopping cart to its place.

Last week, I was driving through the grocery store parking lot when a cart-pushing woman took a direct turn in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes, lifted the front wheels of her cart over the curb, and left her cart propped right up in the middle of the lot, blocking the aisle for traffic. And then, she walked away as if nothing had happened, refusing to make eye contact with me or anyone else around her.

HOW RUDE!

Not only was she blocking traffic, she was being selfish enough to assume that it was someone else's responsibility to return her cart for her.

Ironically, there are folks employed by these stores to take the carts from the cart returns back to the store. And yet, even though she was just as close to the return as she was to the curb, she chose to prop it where it didn't belong.

I would like to think that this woman didn't just do this to infuriate me and further inspire this column. I'd like to assume that the reason she did it wasn't just because she was being rude, but because she didn't realize that you weren't supposed to do that.

Maybe, somewhere along the line, she saw someone else do it, assumed it wasn't all that bad and started. Maybe her mother was a curb-propper.

I don't know why she thought it was OK to do it, but I am fairly confident that most of us would complain if someone else propped a cart on the curb blocking our path for driving.

We'd be infuriated if someone did it right in front of us, and yet, we know that people do it, because there are always carts propped on curbs and left in parking lots.

There are ignorant people in the world that make us say, "How rude!"

But an even greater problem, I think, is the ignorance that surrounds us from the lack of education and knowledge.

And as much as I respect teachers, some of that real-world knowledge has to come from other places, too.

Sometimes, we even have to educate ourselves and look within at the problems we're creating.

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would consider me ignorant — maybe even some who'd say I am for writing this column.

But an honest look at the definition of ignorance and some self-evaluation that asks, "Would what I'm doing make me think I were ignorant if I were someone else?" can be a powerful thing.

And if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that the old saying, "Ignorance is bliss," isn't always true. There are ignorant folks
everywhere.

The question is, will I continue to be one of them, or will I seek the education to eliminate my own ignorance?

Zak Lantz is the ignorant editor of The Spirit, but he's working on that ignorant part.

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