Saturday, May 26, 2012


"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance." - Confucius

I stumbled upon the above quote while searching for something on the web today. There are a lot of variations of this out there. Some much more complicated, some made so simple the meaning becomes lost.

It brought to mind a story that made the difference between “ignorant” and “stupid” crystal clear.

I was having dinner at a restaurant with my husband, Dart and his father, both Cuban. Our waitress spoke Spanish, so my husband ordered for us in their language. She looked at me and in Spanish asked a question, which I couldn't answer. This situation, where someone assumes I speak the language always leaves me uncomfortable.

Dart said to her, in English, "She's ignorant of the Spanish language."

I lost my breath. I honestly could not breathe for the perceived insult. The look on my face must have made my feelings obvious. I got up and walked out, with Dart right on my heels. I left the restaurant with him following and apologizing and trying to explain himself. At least, that’s what I think he was saying. I couldn’t make out exact words. The pounding in my head drowned out all ability to process and understand speech in any language. I kept walking until the throbbing in my ears subsided.

Once calm enough, my hearing returned. I spun around and shouted, "How dare you! You would call me stupid in front of a stranger? In front of your father? What was it? Did you think if you insulted my inability to speak your language, she’d think you more of a man? What the hell?"

“Please, sweetheart, listen. You misunderstood. I said ‘ignorant’, not ‘stupid.’”

“What?! What difference does that make? Is that your idea of an apology?”
“No! Baby, ignorant is to say you haven’t learned something you’re capable of learning. Stupid means you’re incapable of learning, no matter what.”

I gasped. I suddenly remembered English is his second language. With no trace of an accent, it was sometimes hard to keep that fact in mind. Of course he would differentiate the words down to such detail. I felt a bigger fool than I’d ever felt in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t throw my arms around him and profess my undying admiration or anything. I am woman, after all.

So I said, “I understand you are ignorant of the implications of certain words when spoken in public. Now, let’s get back to the table. I think your father may be concerned.”

Since then, I have been keenly aware of my ignorance, as Dart has been aware of his.

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