*Jonathan says this was inspired by my post on unschooling oneself.
I have to say that there was one signal occasion in which we all pooled our ignorance: my very first writers group. we really had not a clue. But fumbling together, we all became markedly better writers and eventually all were published. No, I don’t know how it works, but it works. -SAH*
Pooling Ignorance- A Guest Post By Jonathan R. Lightfoot
I don’t precisely remember when I first used my off-the-cuff catch-phrase at work over 10 years ago, nor whether I had seen it somewhere and adopted it or just created it myself. Original or not, it is the truth of it that is important. As long as it stays true it matters not whether I borrowed it or not (though I like to give attribution when due and known).
“Let’s Pool our Ignorance” It is a Paradox. When I first used it It was a seeming self-deprecation that was also a form of arrogance. No, I don’t know the answer, but yes I can get a good result, answer the question, find out what we need to know and do what we need to do — Without another set of credentials or series of classes.
It was also my way of giving the questioner buy-in to the situation. You are asking me a question, but you may already know more of the answer than you think you do. Let’s take what we both don’t know and come up with a working solution.
The deep dark secret within pooling of ignorance is that most of the time we know hardly anything about the subjects and issues we deal with on a daily basis, but this doesn’t prevent us from living successful and well-ordered lives where our ignorance always highly exceeds what we know.
So how does one Pool Ignorance successfully? It starts by taking a personal inventory of what you think you already know. Don’t be surprised if you know a lot more than you thought you did, and don’t be disappointed if you know a lot less than you hoped. Sometimes the big holes tell you more than the well-ordered facts.
This is followed by interviewing the other people you are pooling ignorance with, to see how much you have in common, what is different, and variations in what was presumed to be the same pieces of data.
I base my pooling on a world view gained through a liberal arts education and a liberal arts mode of thinking. Almost any thought, idea or fact I can find I can place it somewhere within the framework of the things I already know. This means that the great gaps of ignorance are a part of the great matrix of knowledge and learning that I have begun and will continue, for the rest of my life. I may look at sections of it in hindsight with a completely different perspective and conclusion than when I began, but I am able to build upon it filling up some holes, replacing some spans with new data, and make sense of what would otherwise be an often senseless world.
They say that one of the hardest things for anyone to say is “I don’t know”. But when you pool ignorance, you say this, freely, and without shame, all the time. When you pool ignorance you find other people fascinating as you gather what they know, and often help them understand better what they already knew as you discover great new answers, avenues and vistas.
Covid has turned may of our lives upside down. I have been unemployed for over a year, and during that time I have faced several unexpected projects at home. It has pushed me into the position of a general contractor on projects related to plumbing, masonry, carpentry, electrical, landscaping. I was told first off by a good friend that just one of those projects was too big to do, I should give it up. But I cycled through him and others, who helped and walked off, and I picked the brains of many others on what to do. Some of the most emphatic “you can never do it that way” type people were the greatest help, as I blazed forward after doing it the way they said it couldn’t be done.
I didn’t do all the work myself. My hands didn’t have the skill the physically do it all, but I was able to understand what had to be done in those cases, and find the people with the skills, not the ones who could say the right words, but the ones who could actually do the work.
And I had my failures here and there. But they were the greatest successes of all. What I learned from them was invaluable.
Pooling ignorance is liberating. There isn’t only just one right answer or way to do most things. There are many ways and opportunities, and you can try many of them. Now, when something is wrong it is wrong, but more often there is a multitude of right options to choose from.
School may not make us memorize lists by rote, but practically it does make us learn the one way, the right way. Get out of that mentality, and find the freedom in an ignorance that knows more when it knows less and takes advantage of what it does not know to leverage a better future.