Is Ignorance Bliss?

Jun 23, 2023

“Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise” wrote Thomas Gray in his poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742) 

Since then, the expression ‘ignorance is bliss’ has been used many times, in different contexts. But is it true? Is ignorance really bliss? Or is it an assumption, a concept worth enquiring into? 

Let’s begin by understanding how ignorance is usually defined. If you were to look for it in a dictionary, you would probably find something like, ‘lack of knowledge, understanding, awareness or information’.

So going by this definition, if ignorance is lack of knowledge or awareness about something, then we can perhaps say that ignorance is inevitable. We cannot be knowledgeable on every subject. It is also not necessary. But the more relevant question here is - can ignorance actually be advantageous in some instances? Can it be beneficial? 

Are there aspects of our lives where it would be wise to remain ignorant? Are there aspects of our lives where we are unintentionally ignorant? More importantly, are we ignorant about things that matter, deliberately or otherwise? And are we aware of what that is costing us? 

These questions can be approached from several perspectives. However, since our work at Inner Freedom Global is focussed primarily on inner transformation, let us attempt to answer these questions from the perspective of the inner world, our inner experience. 


Can ignoring your inner world be beneficial?

To help us with this exploration, let’s take an example. Let’s suppose an individual unwittingly discovers that their spouse had been intimate with a close friend. They learn about it years after the event is over. This can bring up a lot of pain and questions. Maybe more so if they had come to know of it accidentally, and the spouse had not willingly shared that information. 

There can be feelings of betrayal and frustration, fear that something like that might happen again, or even doubts if they want to remain in the relationship. 

Let’s say the pain around the whole event is overwhelming, and the individual does not know how to free themselves. They feel miserable within but unfortunately do not have a way to come out of it. It is possible that at some point, because of all the suffering inside, they think, “my life was better off when I was ignorant and did not know about the instance. Now, my heart feels shattered, I am not able to forgive and my relationship is in turmoil”.

However, their ignorance of the matter, as well as their knowledge about it later, both were unintentional. There is not much they could have done about it. 

What would be pertinent is if they could ask themselves, “now that I have this information, what am I going to do about it? Am I going to find a way to address this hurt, learn how to let go and free myself .. or am I going to ignore it, and let it fester within? 

What about my spouse’s state of being? Do I want to be present to what the other is going through, be sensitive to their emotions? Or do I want to shut myself off, turn a blind eye, and distance myself from the other? 

What about our relationship? Am I willing to pick up the pieces, forgive and bring back a sense of connection? Or do I want to disregard what happens to our relationship? 

Are my choices moving forward going to be driven by a conscious, wise process of thinking? And if I do not know how to help myself, am I going to seek it from someone who knows how to help me?” 

In this example, being ignorant about the event was not a conscious choice. Would it have been better if the individual had continued to remain ignorant about the situation? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no right or wrong answer to that question. There are only different perspectives. 


When remaining ignorant is not a choice, what do you do?

In reality, we have all, at some point in our lives, come across information that has disturbed us. We may not always have a choice regarding what we see, hear or uncover about ourselves, our past, or others around us. 

But we do have a choice when it comes to how we want to interact with that information, how we want to let it impact our present and future. That is in our hands. If we want to live the best lives we can, intentional ignorance of our inner experiences is certainly not a wise approach. The more we are aware, the more attention we bring to our inner landscape, the better we can help ourselves and others around us. 

When we choose to ignore what is happening within us, we make ourselves vulnerable to exploitation. Most of our decisions and actions will likely be driven by the momentum of old emotional habits. We will be ill-equipped to create new beginnings, nurture lasting relationships and achieve great destinies. 

Let’s take another example. An employee who is trying to change certain policies within the organization but meets with a lot of resistance. They realize they can do little to bring about any meaningful change and this frustrates them. What should the employee do? Should they ignore the situation? Well, why not? Why should they bother, why should they make their life difficult, right? 

Just go about your work, do what you can and ignore the rest! Right?! Well, not so soon!! 

Before making a decision about how to approach the challenge, whether that is to ignore the situation or persist and look for alternative solutions, we would suggest that the employee first bring attention to their state of being. And become aware of how their circumstance is affecting their experience. 

Is it making them feel helpless, that they are too small or not capable enough to make a difference? Is it making them angry, or lose faith in the leaders who run the system? 

Rather than suppress, avoid or ignore what’s happening within, they would have to learn how to bring attention to their emotions and free themselves from any form of stress or unhealthy emotional state. And then, once they are at peace within and can think calmly, they would be able to make wiser decisions about the actual challenge in front of them. They would be able to think more creatively, and come upon effective solutions. 


Wilfully ignoring your inner world is not a wise choice

As far as our inner experience goes, perhaps it is safe to say that ignorance, whether wilful or unintentional, has the potential to lead to and perpetuate unwholesome states of being. In other words, ignorance can cause and prolong various experiences of stress and suffering. 

If we are not aware of what is happening within, we will not be able to take control of it. We will not know how to nurture our being in wholesome, healthy ways. We will likely give into unconscious behaviors that may not be conducive for our overall well-being and success. 

The fact of our lives is that we are all bound to go through stress and suffering, at some point, in some form. It is unavoidable and undeniable. Personally and in our relationships, we are bound to face different forms of discomfort. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to try to ignore it for as long as possible, for as long as we can get away with it? Or are we going to take responsibility for our state of being? 

Also, if we have looked for answers to our suffering, and have not found them, if we have not come upon the right wisdom that can set us free, then it is understandable that we choose to ignore it. Or try to avoid situations or the people we believe are the reason for our suffering. This is natural. But that is not really going to help. We cannot keep running away from ourselves, turn a deaf ear to our own suffering. 

Making the decision to not ignore stress and suffering, and to actually become aware of it may not be a pleasant experience, but it is only in facing inner discomfort, in whatever form it presents itself, will we find our greatest strength, solutions and transformation.