The Differences Between Ignorance, Stupidity and Laziness

Yes, there’s a difference. Before I get rolling, let me first say this:

  1. This is not inspired by any one particular person or event.
  2. It’s something I’ve been musing over the last year or so; kind of examining lots of little instances.
  3. I don’t consider myself exempt from, or above, these descriptions. On the contrary, this post is a bit of a self-cautionary examination. For as important as I feel it is to share these thoughts, they’re more important to me as a tool for self-development.

See? This isn’t a rant, it’s just a collection of decisions that I’ve come to. So let’s get into it. Ignorance, stupidity and laziness…there’s a difference between each of them, and I think the nature of each one is important to consider when working with other people.

I’m not going to use the dictionary definition of these words. We all know what they mean. What we don’t always think of, is what behaviors they should be associated with. The follow-up idea is then, “How should our behaviors or perception of other people be shaped by their actions?” Let’s look at these one at a time.

Ignorance is a complete lack of knowledge on a give subject; a lack of awareness that there is knowledge to be applied. Do you get mad at a kid the first time he tries to stick a fork in an electrical outlet? No. Do you yell at them? Maybe, but that reaction is born out of fear for the child’s safety…not anger at their behavior. It is hard to fault someone for acting without knowledge if they are unaware that there is knowledge to apply in a given situation. You don’t realize that there is something to be learned until one of two things happens:

  1. Someone tells you.
  2. You experience a negative result, that informs you that you are lacking specific knowledge.

Ignorance is forgivable. Ignorance leads to opportunities to learn, to expand your knowledge and gain experience. Mistakes can be wonderful things, if you take that opportunity to learn from them. So forgive people of their ignorance. We’re all ignorant in one way or another. It’s simply an issue of the situations surrounding us.

Stupidity can only occur if there is a lack of ignorance. You can only be stupid if you have knowledge to apply in your situation. It does, however, have a tendency to be sub-conscious. If you have overlooked, or temporarily forgotten, knowledge applicable to a situation, that is stupidity. Stupidity tends to happen less as experience grows. The more you are exposed to situations where you can apply your knowledge, the more consciously that knowledge embeds itself in your mind. Students are stupid, professionals are less so and experts are rarely so.

That’s just it though. Everyone is capable of “brain farts,” regardless of your experience level. So stupidity is forgivable, but the tolerance curve for stupidity is non-linear. The more experience and knowledge you have, the less forgivable it is. Basically, it turns into an issue of frequency. Students can be stupid frequently; but if you want to be considered an expert, better make it a rarity. This is where you need to be honest with yourself and those you are working with. There’s a saying that goes, “The more you know, the more you realize just how much there is that you don’t understand.” Know your limitations, but also understand that other professionals you work with have been where you are before. You need to ensure that your knowledge level matches your experience. People will only forgive stupidity so far, so be less stupid than they expect you to be. If you can’t, then expect to be identified as…

Lazy

Laziness is a very conscious decision. There’s no room for forgiveness like there is with ignorance or stupidity. There are elements that are out of our control with those two; that’s why they are forgivable. Unlike ignorance and stupidity, laziness is a personal choice. If you’re ignorant, then you will be exposed to learning opportunities. If you choose not to take advantage of those, you’re being lazy. If you have knowledge and choose not to apply it, you are being lazy. Other people know when you are being lazy, and it will only affect your relationship with them in a negative way. Don’t be lazy.

What should you and I take away from these ideas?

  • Recognize the difference between ignorance, stupidity and laziness…both in others and yourself.
  • Be understanding of someone else’s ignorance, especially if you want the same in return.
  • Seek knowledge, reduce ignorance.
  • Within reason, accept stupidity as the accident it is.
  • Seek ways to apply knowledge…thus reducing opportunities for stupidity.
  • Don’t fear mistakes, learn from them.
  • Whether the cause is ignorance or stupidity, be honest when you make a mistake…both to the people you’re working with, and yourself. And, when possible, be ready with the fix.
  • Don’t be lazy.
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