The Blessings of Ignorance
1st March 2017
Bill Goodman has just started work as Assistant Principal of St Peter's College and Director of Ongoing Ministerial Development. Here are a few reflections from Bill's first week in post.
There’s a lot to learn when you’re new in town. Does anyone else recognise that feeling? It starts with locating the supermarket, DIY centre, post office, doctor, recycling…. working out why we got a fine for being in a bus lane, and how to combine tram with train to get to the office. New patterns of life: where and when shall I pray in this place? Not to mention learning the implications of moving into a smaller house: a few things we squeezed onto the removal van in the fond hope of finding a corner for them somewhere now make their way to the local charity shop.
Ignorance can feel alarming and humiliating. So many names to learn… and then instantly forget… and then try to learn again! When does it get just too embarrassing to ask a name again? Yet somehow not knowing can also be fun. Exploring the local bakery: ‘Hmm, I wonder if those taste as good as they smell… only one way to find out!’
Being ignorant is an opportunity to let other people help and teach you. One of the keys to learning is choosing some good questions, and then listening carefully to people’s responses. When you’re new, you can innocently ask interesting questions: ‘What’s been going up to now?’ ‘Why do we do it this way?’ ‘Who are the key people?’ ‘How do we decide our priorities?’ (Not forgetting, ‘How do you work this irritating photocopier?’) And interwoven with all this, the bigger questions: ‘What is God saying and doing here?’ Your question might even spark the other person to a new train of thought – so you both end up learning more.
Ignorance only becomes a problem when we refuse to admit it, or when we don’t even notice it. In today’s world, it’s easy to form ‘gated communities’ of like-minded people, perhaps a social media group or a church home group. It becomes a kind of echo-chamber, where we only hear voices and views that sound much like our own. So we don’t realise how much we still have to learn, or how others may see things differently. (I know someone who occasionally searches online for a topic in which he has no interest at all – just to confuse that clever algorithm in his Facebook page, which works out his preferences and chooses what news and views to feed him!) In study groups you need someone who is brave enough to ask awkward questions: it may become less comfortable, but the learning goes deeper. We need good understanding to build our convictions on.
Being new tends to be somewhat bewildering, and at times you can feel pretty clueless. Which you are; and that’s okay, for now. So let’s hear it for ignorance: something we simply need to acknowledge and embrace. That’s the gateway to the fun bit, the adventure – exploring new places, people, ideas and possibilities. There’s always a lot to learn.
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