Is Ignorance Bliss?
Part Two: Is Ignorance Bliss
Ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge or information. So, quite literally, if we are ignorant about something, we don’t have to worry about it, think about it, or even take responsibility for it.
But is there a point at which we should think more about the words we choose and why they matter?
Words are powerful tools. They convey meaning. They provide context. They entertain us and tell us stories. But there is also something more to words. They can have meanings that reach beyond their dictionary definitions. Words can devalue entire groups. They can maintain stereotypes, prejudices, and systemic inequalities.
For example, it wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting at a Little League Baseball game for my son when I overheard two fathers laugh at a young pitcher who had not yet perfected his aim. Under their breath, I heard them chuckle as one said, “He throws like a girl.”
How does a phrase like this become so common? How does doing something “like a girl” come to imply poor performance?
A short while later, I was visiting a friend’s house when I saw her daughter’s “A+ 100%” spelling test proudly posted on the refrigerator. Underneath the bold A+ there were two simple words, “Beautiful Handwriting.”
Can you think of any social or cultural meanings that may be conveyed in these words?
Hidden Meaning in Commonly Used Phrases
Have you ever felt “gypped” when you didn’t get what you paid for?
The word gypped implies a connotation of deception and unscrupulous behaviors. It comes from the word Gypsie used to describe the Roma people who were wrongly assumed to be Egyptian because of phenotypic characteristics. Gypped is a derogatory term that frames the cultural and social habits of the Roma lifestyle in a negative context.
Social, Cultural, and Historic Awareness
These words represent more than simple phrases. They represent social, cultural, and historical contexts. But many people are blissfully unaware of the underlying meanings they may convey.
Individual Perception Becomes Social Reality
How should we think about these common phrases that represent social inequalities, prejudice, and stereotypes?
Is a lack of awareness of their origin and implications an excuse to continue to use them?
“Hire For Fit”
I was recently reviewing a client’s website when I stopped reading mid-sentence. There were three words that caused me to pause. The paragraph was describing their company culture and how much they were like a big family. Within this paragraph, they stated that they don’t just hire for skill, they “hire for fit.”
What does “hire for fit” mean to you? What might it mean to someone else reading the same line?
When different people read the same words, they don’t always take away the same message.
This happens because we each come to every situation with our own unique lens. An individual’s lens is shaped by their own lived experiences, by their own histories and biographies. Therefore, their lens shapes what they see and how they see it.
Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
If it was your company website that said we are like a family and hire for fit, can you imagine how some potential clients or job applicants might perceive these words? What happens when they look at the company directory and see images of people that mostly fall within the same demographic categories? How might their lens impact the perception of these words?
What becomes of a little girl’s perception who internalizes a message that her pretty handwriting is valued above her effort and hard work to spell all the words correctly?
Word choice can create barriers that people are ‘blissfully’ unaware of. Diversity initiatives often fail because of unintended messages being conveyed.
In today’s environment, businesses cannot afford to remain blissfully unaware of how and why people interpret, perceive, and experience the same words differently.
No one person can have all the answers or can see all the possibilities. But everyone can overcome the limits of their own lens if they choose to remain curious, adopt a growth mindset, and surround themselves with diverse voices.
Building social- and self-awareness are essential 21st century skills for success and survival.
**All highlighted phrases are hyper-links to other articles written on the topic. Join me in the conversation about whether or not ignorance is bliss and who gets to decide what words or phrases matter.
By Kristin Heck Sajadi, Founder and CEO at Shyft Strategies, LLC
Sajadi is a sociologist, entrepreneur and developer of the Shyft5 TM program – helping individuals and organizations build social awareness as a business asset to shyft the status quo.
Shyft5 TM program tackles challenges and builds awareness—the benchmark for effective communication, productive interaction, and thriving cultures in today’s organizations.
At Shyft Strategies, we help you uncover the obstacles and barriers preventing you from reaching your goals. We help you navigate today’s new business and human capital reality. The first step to moving forward is increasing awareness. Awareness isn’t just learning a new fact or statistic. It is connecting the dots between the reality of what is and why, so that we can consciously and cognitively shyft to what can be and how.