‘Ignorance is bliss’ is a phrase first said by the famous British poet, Thomas Gray. The proverb first appeared in Thomas Gray’s poem, ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ in which he said that, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
According to Cambridge Dictionary the proverb ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is, ‘said to emphasize that sometimes it is better for you if you do not know all the facts about a situation’ What it simply means is that in certain situations, lack of knowledge pertaining to that situation results in happiness and comfort.
‘Ignorance’ is the absence of knowledge and ‘bliss’ is absolute happiness. There are situations in life in which if a person is ignorant about certain things, she would live a happier, more blissful life.
Let’s take the example of a fish. A fish has no consciousness of land. It blissfully goes on swimming in the water, unaware of the existence of land. If it knew that there is something other than water, it would want to go there. But, the fish doesn’t know that it will not be able to survive out of water.
When it goes there, it will die. Therefore, until it remains unaware about the existence of land, it will live its life happily. If it is aware of the existence of the land, it will naturally want to go there. If it doesn’t, it will never be able to live a life of content and satisfaction.
Parents often protect their children from the truths of life. They don’t let their children become aware about the harsh realities of life. For example, a parent who is poor and does not have food to eat will often give the small amount of food that she can get to her children.
She will not let the child know about her own empty stomach and put up a happy face in front of her child. She does this so that the child can have a happy childhood, like children should. As a parent, she would naturally not want her child to be burdened with the family’s financial problems.
Even when you grow up, you cannot claim that you know about all the problems that your parents faced when you were little. Parents tend to protect their children, so that children can have a happy life.
Imagine if a child was made aware of all the problems that not only the parents, but the society was facing, like wars, epidemics, etc., would the child be happy? Would she still have her innocence? Ignorance, therefore for children, is bliss.
This is further illustrated in the story of Oedipus. Oedipus was a King, who wanted to find a solution to the plague that was creating havoc in the nation. For this, the Prophet asked him to find the murderer of his predecessor, King Laius. Thus, King Oedipus started the investigation to find the killer of King Laius.
This investigation led to many troubles. Many new truths were uncovered. Queen Jacosta, his wife and King Laius’s previous wife and the Shepherd urged King Oedipus to stop this investigation. But, Oedipus carried on. He was too curious to know the truth.
This ultimately led to his own downfall. He quest for knowledge led to uncovering of the truth. It was this truth that destroyed his life. One wonders, What if he never became aware of the truth? Maybe, he still would be king.
Maybe, he would never have to suffer like he did. Probably, the end result would have been different if he was ignorant to his life’s truths. The more he uncovered the truth, the more he became nearer to his own demise. Ignorance truly would have been bliss.
In the famous mythical tale of Adam and Eve, Eve the first woman ate the apple from the tree of knowledge when God had specifically asked Adam not to. After eating the apple, Adam and Eve became aware of all worldly knowledge but along with it came the shame of knowing that they disobeyed God’s orders.
It is their curiosity that led to this. If they were not curious to eat those red apples, it would not have led to such consequences. Therefore, if they did not have knowledge, they would be much happier and satisfied in their own paradise. Thus, Adam and Eve would have been in bliss if they were ignorant. Isn’t it true? If we forgot all our painful memories, wouldn’t we be happy?
Not all people agree with this view. For example, not knowing may lead to embarrassment. A person may be unaware of their spouse cheating on them. Because they don’t know, they would be happy. But, this is detrimental for them. If other people were aware of the cheating spouse, it would lead to embarrassment for that person.
Besides, that person, if unaware, would continue to be in a relationship with that cheating spouse. Would that be a good thing? That person deserves better. Having the knowledge of the cheating spouse will be painful. It will hurt a lot. But, in the need, it will only benefit that person as they will leave that spouse and be careful of people in the future so that they are not cheated on again.
If Jonas Salk, the famous scientist who invented and developed the first vaccine for polio would have been ignorant, the world would still be rampant with polio. Yes, if he was unaware of the suffering and sadness caused by polio he would have been happier. But, would that happiness be real? Jonas Salk was not ignorant. Instead, he started studying the disease of polio and gaining knowledge about it.
Consequently, after studying and experimenting, he became successful and developing a vaccine. It was difficult, but he did it. This vaccine helped later generations to prevent polio and ultimately led to its gradual extinction. Without knowledge, the humankind wouldn’t have developed and benefited.
Even if there is pain and hurt, if people braved it and would be able to survive through it, wouldn’t they emerge stronger and better. Thus, it is bliss that would be detrimental to the person and not pain. If a person braves her fear, she would emerge stronger.
Another example is the example of the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi. If he had no knowledge of the pain and suffering that his own people went through, he wouldn’t have worked hard and inspired an entire nation to fight for their rights and gain freedom.
In fact, before launching his movement on a national scale, Mahatma Gandhi travelled through many parts of India, just to gain knowledge of the suffering that millions of his fellow countrywomen and men were facing because of the British atrocities in India.
After seeing this suffering, Mahatma Gandhi made up his mind. It was time to fight back. Imagine what would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi lived in ignorance, unaware of all the problems such as racism, poverty, hunger, etc. that his countrywomen and men were facing. Would India still be the same? Thus ignorance is not always bliss.
Knowledge will ultimately lead to betterment of the humankind. If you are aware of the problems that exist, you will strive to solve these problems, even if it is painful. This is a good thing. Not knowing the truth in itself is painful in some respects.
And, if we are ignorant, we will not be able to make informed choices in life. Making informed choices with full awareness of its consequences is extremely important.
Thus, there are two opinions and whether ignorance is bliss or not is a matter of debate. It is true that whether ignorance is bliss or not depends on perception and situation. But, it is generally accepted that being ignorant is disadvantageous. Maybe with time, the perception has changed.