Sure, I'm Ignorant
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Sure, I’m Ignorant and Will Always Be
Criticism from afar can cut just as deeply as in-your-face histrionics, complete with sputum and the bulging eyes of the critic. But being called ignorant was never a huge insult for me because the introspective citizen who calls himself the Footloose Forester has known throughout his life that he is ignorant and has paid attention to the many clues and reminders around him.
When he was a freshman in college, he used to take breaks in the stacks of the library where he studied. It was a game to choose an aisle at random, to stop at so many paces and then without looking, reach for a book or journal that he planned to open, at random. Without fail, as he started to read, he reminded himself that he was completely ignorant of the stuff on the page, any page. Sure, it was a lesson in humility but people didn’t need to know. You can do something about being ignorant, and the job is yours alone. In the process, it is better to be humble about what you know and what you don’t know. Some people just pretend to know.
Thank you, Gandhi. I was ignorant about this quotation
Perhaps the best example he can remember about being ignorant was when he took mental notes about what he knew or thought he knew about chemistry, just as one subject on a long list of subjects. A typical lumper in the world might give a response about one aspect or another of chemistry but the Footloose Forester did not know how to respond. He knew how ignorant he was and how complex the world of chemistry is.
The real experts strive to publish fresh findings about chemistry in the Journal of Chemistry, the Journal of Physics, the Journal of Chemical Physics, or the Journal of Physical Chemistry; just as examples of the interconnectedness of scientific disciplines. All of those journals were on the shelves at the University Library. He didn’t yet know a thing about biochemistry, soil chemistry, petroleum chemistry, or organic chemistry so he could not presume anything about them either. But he knew they were specialized fields that filled the careers of thousands of people. He was just ignorant about those fields so he spent his time focusing on things he was obliged to learn at the moment.
Why does the Footloose Forester choose to expose the soft underbelly of his own ignorance? Frankly, it stems from recently being called ignorant. It may have been intended to be a knife jab in an ad hominem attack (appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect) but it did not draw blood because the Footloose Forester has grown a thick enough skin to recognize ad hominem rants as the weapons of those who never come up with worthy counterpoints in dialogue.
Thanks to the Copy + Paste function, the Footloose Forester is able to borrow similar views he shared in another chronicle in 2014. The edited excerpts are printed here, just as a check on the veracity of the presumptions.
From: On Ignorance, March 2014:
This is likely to be the most personal, contentious, insulting, and embarrassing chronicle that the Footloose Forester has ever penned. It is all about my ignorance, your ignorance, and the general ignorance that pervades the very air we breathe.
[When asked about his relative ignorance about economics] President Eisenhower went on to say that people should not be ashamed to admit that they are ignorant; because we are all ignorant about some things. Ignorance simply means that you are unaware of something. The word in no way suggests that being ignorant means that you are stupid.
As written in another chronicle, entitled “Schooling for Life”, the Footloose Forester described seeking a Masters degree at the University of Florida was a natural extension of his belief that he was woefully unprepared to speak and practice as a forester in the Third World, his choice as a career path. Rather than to project phony self-effacement when he told people he was ignorant, he just reminded them and himself that he and they were entirely ignorant of places they had never been, and of the languages and cultures that were awaiting them there.
On another occasion when he was giving a presentation at a forestry conference in Bamako, Mali, he let it slip about his relative ignorance regarding a policy or technical matter in Cape Verde. One of the participants then asked if the Footloose Forester had ever worked overseas before. To which he replied, yes; there was Pakistan, and Viet Nam, and Indonesia, and Costa Rica, and Panama, and Honduras, and Trinidad, and Senegal and … but he was still ignorant. He may have looked in the direction of the questioner with his response.
In retrospect, the Footloose Forester always took some delight in mentioning that in one way or another, we should not let our pride in our fancy degrees overshadow our utterly ignorant status as we attempt to cope with international development issues in places where we do not know the languages, the geography, the ecosystems, the politics, or the day-to-day struggles of the people.