True Measure of Understanding: Ignorance Generates Negativity

True Measure of UnderstandingIn the absence of understanding human reaction is generally negative.  It’s always easier to destroy than it is to build something useful.  In his bestselling book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, Malcolm Gladwell describes the initial market reaction to the Aeron chair.  At first the average consumer didn’t understand the product and therefore felt uneasy about its purpose.  When people don’t know how to classify their personal reactions, the mind automatically associates this indecision with a negative frame of reference.  If you don’t understand it, it must not be any good.  Only when something is truly understood can it then be looked at in a positive light. 

During high school I had the typical “I know everything” teenage mentality.  In my senior year English class the teacher had us read “1984” by George Orwell as part of a 5 page book report assignment.  I wrote a paper arguing against Orwell’s futuristic ideas of a negative utopia.  The teacher graded my paper with a C- and told me that I was missing many of the key principals inherent in the storyline.  He also advised that I open my mind a little, and said that I would learn more in life by figuring out the strong points of a subject, instead of arguing against the weak points

I spent the following week carefully rereading “1984”, but this time from a mindset of curious objectivity.  When I finished the second read I understood why the teacher had graded me so poorly.  It became obvious to me that Orwell was a brilliant theorist, and even though I didn’t necessarily agree with every one of his points, some of his ideas changed my entire way of thinking.  I would have gained nothing out of the book if all I had done was argue against it.  My English teacher taught me one of the most important lessons in life: Finding the positive points in the subject you’re analyzing is the true measure of understanding.  Ignorance usually generates negative opinion because it’s easier to disregard something than it is to understand it.


  1. says

    Great post! I have recently come across your blog and its RSS made it to my feed reader, which is a BIG deal since I now have only 6 feeds, down from 100+ a month ago.

    I do share your same belief that ignorant people who don’t understand something find it easier – actually it is their habit – to diminish one’s point, instead of building something.

    I am a bit perplexed by one issue in your post: I can’t see what positive comments your professor made of your report, there’s nothing positive in a C.

  2. says

    @Larry: Thanks for the kinds words. I’m glad we share some of the same views… it’s what keeps the conversation going.

    Your point is a good one. My teacher didn’t make any direct positive comments about my paper, but he did make an indirect positive assessment about me as a student. He saw potential in my abilities and looked at my paper as an extension of my educational development. His overarching goal was not to grade that paper, but to develop his student’s abilities. He saw my potential, and thus advised me in the right direction. I have used his advice ever since.

  3. says

    Very good point!it is human nature to reject what cannot be understood! Therefore, the most important thing to do is to raise awareness and understanding.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *