After the economic crisis erupted, many people asked: ‘Why did no one see it coming?’ Of course, it now emerges that some individual voices did raise some concerns (and, with the benefit of hindsight, their sometimes bland general comments seem almost uncanny). But on the whole, the response was a deliberate wallowing in a collective pool of blissful ignorance.
Because it is easier to bury your head in the sand than face uncomfortable truths. Because it is easier to say it’s not your fault if you don’t know too much about certain matters. Because if you don’t know for sure, you can still fool yourself into believing things will work out fine.
We all know that pleading ignorance will get you nowhere in a court case, but I started wondering just how valid an excuse it is in other situations… Here’s what I mean, some examples are more morally sticky than others and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.
If you set really aggressive sales targets for your team, but don’t really want to know the details of how they achieve those targets, can you be held responsible if some of them don’t adhere to the official company policy?
If you are worried about your child’s behaviour but resist taking him to the doctor or psychologist for fear that he may be labelled for the rest of his life, are you responsible if he then hurts another child?
If you suspect your boss may be fiddling expenses, but you would rather not investigate it too thoroughly for fear of the negative effect it could have on your career, can you honestlysay you were unaware of this when the shortfall comes to light?
Thomas Jefferson said ‘Ignorance is preferable to error…’ and all too often we would rather say we don’t know enough about a situation rather than take sides. And then be proved wrong.
I am one of those born facilitators and mediators who wants to hear all sides of a story, who refuses to commit categorically to a position before looking at it from all angles… and yet I wonder if sometimes that is not just another way of using ignorance as an excuse for lack of action. If I don’t know everything about a situation, that doesn’t mean I am ignorant and therefore not to be blamed. Sitting on a fence can be a downright pain at times…