[June 02, 2015] A number of years ago my daughter finished elementary school and was preparing to move into middle school. At a ceremony to mark the transition there was much pomp and circumstance and included handing out of various honors and awards to the students. After the ceremony I asked my 13-year old daughter what she thought of the event. She answered with a question, “Dad, why do you make me study so hard when even the dummies get awards?” The question I pose here is, “do we really promote ignorance?” The answer is yes we do.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have chosen the word ignorance purposefully. Ignorance means a lack of knowledge, learning, or information.1 Whether by conscious will or by accident, ignorance has little obvious benefit. But it must have some purpose or give some advantage, otherwise why is it that ignorance is promoted in education, business, government, and in our military? We know that leaders have a responsibility to ensure that those who follow have the social and intellectual tools to perform those tasks we give them. Why the contradiction?
There are two important points to be made about our promotion of ignorance. Both these points involve our leaders failing us. First, the trend to insist that everyone be equal in all things continues to get stronger in the Western world. Those who are smarter or better in some way are demonized as having an unfair advantage. Extra resources are given to those without those “advantages” and the ignorant (although we are prohibited from calling them that) are seen as victims due to transgressions against them.
Second, we insist people be silent about those who are ignorant. Those who do succeed in some achievement, are told that they should never revel in their luck, keep their mouth shut on how they succeeded, and don’t make others look bad by working hard. For example, in many universities today debate on difficult issues is shutdown to the expression of unwanted ideas. The reason given is that the debate might hurt someone’s feelings or cause violence; in other words, for safety reasons.
Leaders now fear appearing to be judgmental or hypocritical if they pursue excellence or hold people accountable for their actions. This promotion of ignorance confuses our ability to tell intelligence from stupidity. It follows that the pursuit of excellence is seen as giving an unfair advantage and should not be sought after. Thus we have lowered the bar on what is an acceptable level of intelligence and achievement … and that is dangerous.
What all this means for the future is unknown but the significance of this is clear for leaders. For leaders who strive for success they will need to buck the trend and encourage intellectual excellence in everything we do.
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