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Nobody knows everything—which means all of us are ignorant about something.
I have no clue, for example, how to throw a curveball. In all the years I’ve played baseball, I’ve never figured it out. I can throw a fastball (not very fast); and a slider (which doesn’t slide very well), but a curveball—nope. No can do. I’ve tried. Even got some professional counseling from a real curveball pitcher once. He really endeavored to show me how, but it didn’t take. My right arm, wrist and hand just won’t do what they need to do to make that baseball curve. I’ve had to face it—I am curveball-ignorant.
Which probably explains why I usually play first base and not pitcher.
Most of us, in this highly-specialized world, tend to know a great deal about our chosen profession or our scholarly focus or our most avid avocations; but relatively little about most other things. I have a friend who can name every song and artist from the classic-rock era, even the most obscure ones; but who has no clue how to fix his car. Another guy I know has a photographic memory for statistics; but couldn’t cook a meal to save his life.
When I taught English at a university I had a sign on my door that said: “All professors parade a slim knowledge in front of a massive ignorance.” My students thought it was funny, but I was dead serious.
In my experience, people generally try to acquire knowledge and become less ignorant in the areas of life that interest them the most. We stay ignorant in the areas of life that hold little interest for us. For example: if you couldn’t care less about algebra, you probably paid little attention to it in school, and remained un-schooled in the subject.
But what about your inner beliefs? Certainly, few people could claim that their deepest convictions, their innermost spiritual principles, just don’t interest them. However—many of us, as Abdu’l-Baha suggests in the quote at the beginning of this essay, base our beliefs on blind imitation. We imitate our parents; our grandparents; our traditions, our upbringing; our culture—all without questioning or examining what we really think. We blindly imitate the past, out of respect for our heritage or willful negligence or merely going along with what’s easiest and most convenient. The Baha’i teachings say that no one should make a blindly imitative, willfully ignorant decision:
No man should follow blindly his ancestors and forefathers. Nay, each must see with his own eyes, hear with his own ears and investigate independently in order that he may find the truth. The religion of forefathers and ancestors is based upon blind imitation. Man should investigate reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 25.
…shall blind imitations of ancestral forms and theological interpretations continue to guide and control the religious life and spiritual development of humanity today? Shall man gifted with the power of reason unthinkingly follow and adhere to dogma, creeds and hereditary beliefs which will not bear the analysis of reason in this century of effulgent reality? Unquestionably this will not satisfy men of science, for when they find premise or conclusion contrary to present standards of proof and without real foundation, they reject that which has been formerly accepted as standard and correct and move forward from new foundations. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 83.
In fact, the Baha’i teachings say that blind imitation of the traditions of the past forms the root cause of all prejudice:
And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past — imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 247.
From a Baha’i perspective, it takes real, authentic investigation of the truth to get beyond the “aping of the past.” If you want to move forward; if you want to make progress; if you want to create a new perspective for yourself, you have to see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears.
We can all do this. Unlike my attempts to throw a curveball, everyone can learn to independently investigate the truth for themselves. Give it a try—you have nothing to lose except blind imitation.