Here’s a ThinkTwice Magazine column I originally wrote in 1998, but which I’ve edited slightly today. It still prompts a question or two (or three, or four) in me even today.
Would you really rather always know the truth even if sometimes youâ€™d be miserable with it, or would you sometimes appreciate being blissful in ignorance?
Iâ€™ve always taken the ideological tack that at least knowing the truth is more important than my own personal comfort. This is because I value the truth greatly and I think the meaning of it would always benefit me more in the long run and outweigh the possible misery I might suffer in the short run. But lately Iâ€™ve been willing to concede that maybe itâ€™s worth considering that sometimes it really does seem, especially in hindsight, that there are times when being ignorant would have spared me some feelings that I could have done without, especially since the truth itself was something I could very well have lived without.
Perhaps one does not need to know some things. The word â€œneedâ€ may be the key here.Â Do we need to know everything we are presented with?Â If you donâ€™t â€œneedâ€ to know something (especially if itâ€™s â€œnone of your businessâ€ anyway), then whatâ€™s wrong with choosing not to know if you suspect that that knowledge will cause you undue emotional distress. If the knowledge is unnecessary for your well being, then perhaps the awful truth of it is not necessary for the long run of your well being. But then, how do you know ahead of time that the knowledge is unnecessary if you donâ€™t have that knowledge? And, if you suspect what that knowledge might be anyway, wouldnâ€™t you be just trying to run from it by choosing not to verify your suspicions by hearing the truth?
Does it depend on your purposes for knowing the truth? WHY would you want to know something that could possibly disturb you? Perhaps it is not that you WANT to be disturbed, but rather that the truth, good or bad, would help you behave or think accordingly. Wouldnâ€™t this be a philosophy of life â€“ whether you value truth enough to always be willing to take the chance that the truth will always have some redeeming value? Or does it first depend on whether you could always HANDLE the truth to begin with?
But, can an awful truth really hurt you? How can it do that? After all, the truth only IS. It is YOU that must allow a truth to RESULT in hurt. It is YOU that must deal with your own knowledge. Even so, we are humans, and we all tend to take things personally at one time or another anyway. Is this right or wrong? Or is it simply the way things are?
Perhaps it is HOW that knowledge of the truth comes about. Would it hurt more, for example, if the truth comes to you from a third party rather than from â€œthe horseâ€™s mouthâ€?Â Does it matter WHEN you discover the truth? For example, before you make a fool out of yourself versus after?
All told, if the choice is between joy and sorrow, should we risk sorrow for the possible joy, always, as a matter of principle? Or should we play it by ear, and take each situation as it comes? And realize that there is an important distinction to be made between actively seeking a potentially â€œawfulâ€ truth, and actively resisting knowing the truth!
Remember that Plato said that the unexamined life is not worth living. If this is true, then isnâ€™t choosing to be blissful in ignorance a choice for NOT examining your life? And if itâ€™s not true, would you be reading this column? I wonder!
Â© 1998-2009 Gary D. Timothy