Why Stand at the Brink of Ignorance?

by | May 12, 2015

When I first heard of the “Brink of Ignorance” during my under-graduate years at Stanford, I was already far over the brink and wallowing in ignorance. I was so immersed in it I thought it was the standard condition of life. I hadn’t yet grasped the difference between “not knowing” (ignorance) and “not caring” (apathy) but I did realize that the emotional baggage accompanying ignorance simply stunk to high heavens.
I knew that I had to make my way back to the Brink of Ignorance and see that it was also the “Brink of Knowing.” Back then my motivation wasn’t curiosity or a passion to know, or even some noble intellectual aspiration. Instead it was unvarnished fear and generalized anxiety.

I was afraid that what I didn’t know would most certainly hurt me.

However, instead of becoming immobilized by fear I was energized by it, and I let  “avoidance motivation” become my best friend all the way to the Ph.D. and beyond.

So why stand at the Brink of Ignorance? First of all you might realize that if you reach the brink and turn around, you’ll be looking at the Brink of Knowing rather than the infinite Sea of Not Knowing. And second, you might come to understand that fear need not immobilize you, defeat you, and shrink your world to a short list of bleak possibilities.

Fear is your friend when used to identify what you want to approach instead of letting it tell you what to avoid and run away from.

When standing on the Brink of Ignorance, other disabling demons are ready to drive you into the backwaters of mediocrity.  One of them shrieks at you that “Ignorance is really Incompetence” and you will be seen by all as an “incompetent fool.”  The funny thing is:  A fool is someone who doesn’t know, and doesn’t know he/she doesn’t know.  Being at the Brink of Ignorance, however, means that you don’t know, but you know you don’t know.  Thus you are ready to be a “Student” and as long as you seek to learn you will never be a fool.

When at the Brink of Ignorance, it’s also possible for you to already know, but not know that you already know.  We characterize that as being “Asleep” and see that condition as a sign that you should be helped to awaken.  When I regained the Brink of Ignorance, I saw that I had been asleep to the possibilities of life, and I slowly became a student of my own human nature and how I might lead a life of what Martin Seligman now calls “authentic happiness”.
My Brink of Ignorance has become a dynamic balancing point from which I’m taught new lessons on a daily basis.  It is where I never stop learning what the questions are, such as:

  • How do I use Uncertainty/Risk to develop my present and future life?
  • How did I reinvent my Sense of Personal and Business Self after moves to three very different communities in Wisconsin?
  • How did I anchor my Self-Concept so that a realistic level of Self-Esteem could grow from my achievement, fulfillment and enjoyment?
  • How could I maintain an attitude of Great Self-Confidence without suffering from unwarranted Over-Confidence or rampant Egotism?
  • What is the highest level of Aspiration that I can reach before I die?

Here’s my point.  Ignorance is NOT a bunch of things like bliss, incompetence, false wisdom, low self-esteem. Nor is ignorance a place in which you want to live the rest of your life.

Ignorance and Knowing make up the window into your “self.”

Your window ought to have as its largest pane one containing positive realities known to you and to others who know you.  Its smallest pane ought to be one that has realities about you that you don’t know but others do know.  Your full window will have four panes

By Allen M. “Dr. Al” Raffetto, Ph.D.

Allen M. Raffetto, Ph.D., the group’s founder, brings together psychology and business for clients throughout North America. He has worked extensively with companies in the Midwest since 1983.

Dr. Raffetto holds degrees in psychology from Stanford University (B.A.), San Francisco State University (M.A.) and the University of North Dakota, (Ph.D.). His specialized area, cognitive psychology, includes studies of human learning, memory, perception and information processing.

He was a member of the faculty and Chairman of the Psychology Department at Beloit College from 1969 to 1984. During those years Dr. Raffetto also held research appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied the reading process, and at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he participated in an on-going study of how medical education transforms bright students into practicing physicians.

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