Why are people so afraid to display their ignorance? Isn't that the first step towards knowledge? And, yet, why do they find the ignorance of others reason enough to elevate themselves?
A while ago on a website there was an incident where one writer was asked about The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He is supposed to have responded with a "Yes, I like that song". There was much smirking around.
How many outside of the ambit of literature would know about this Eliot poem, or that it was a poem? Besides, just to test it, I got 311,000 search results in 0.33 seconds for Eliot+Prufrock. So, what is the big deal?
The person concerned could have just done that and flaunted his 'knowledge'. Instead, he naively said what came to his mind.
There are several things we do not know. At least I am clueless about the financial market. Why, I am not even sure about the calculator, so I start counting on my fingers to confirm!
If a subject interests me, then I will go out of my way to find out. If not, I wallow in the bliss of ignorance.
A few years ago I was working on an article on the late industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. This was pre-internet days in
I still remember the look on his face -- shock followed by a smile. And then he said, "Do you know I have cub reporters who come here, but never bother to ask and understand?"
Had I not, I would not have lost much for it was not a technical piece, but it was imperative for me to have this background info to build up the case.
On another occasion I was interviewing this businessman from a prominent family. He had become the outsider in his environment, and my story was about his personal destruction. The first ten minutes he kept talking about the business, share-holding and other blah without a pause. Then he asked me, "You understand?"
"No," I said. "In fact, Mr. X, I have not followed a word...and you do know why I am here. I mentioned it on the phone..."
He nodded. The reason I had let him talk was because he was desperate to show he still mattered, that he knew his way around. It was one of my most difficult interviews because he was so honest, so open. I did wonder why he was telling me all he did...
I wrote it out; it was sent to print.
Two days later I got a call from his office asking if I could withhold the article. It was just too late.
When it was published I called him up. I did express regret that I could not recall the pages. To my surprise, he said, "Oh, I have read it. It is fine…I was not too sure how I would come across..."
How vulnerable he seemed then...and yes, I did feel good for letting my feelings rule and write not as an inquisitor but a compassionate listener. I was not there to expose his personal warts. He was exposing himself to a stranger who he would never meet again.
Talking about the demons in his head, and life, was therapy for him. In turn I felt connected to a life far removed from mine.