A former co-worker used to joke that, “What you don’t know would fill an ocean.” I thought this was an insult until I realized he was teaching me. The knowledge of my ignorance can humble me and give me the desire to learn from others and grow. Or, I can fear that I am inadequate and try to hide my ignorance with arrogance and pride and be unteachable.
Even if I talk with someone to exchange knowledge with them, I, and they, may come away with totally different meanings of what was said. English is ambiguous at best. I enter conversations with preconceived ideas that influence the meaning I assign to what I hear. I see what I want to see, what I am prepared to see.
That is why stigma is so devastating. The label of mental illness changes how I perceive someone. Even if I have met someone and been in a conversation with them and formed an impression of them, if I then find out they have a label, my interpretation of all my knowledge of them changes. At a local mental hospital the patients don’t wear shoes. Doctors, and other staff, do wear shoes. Sometimes doctors can be seen talking to someone and briefly looking down to see if they have shoes on. Do the doctors want to know how to interpret what they see? Do they not trust what they see, and want a label?
The stigma of a lack of education is another example of not knowing what I don’t know. A certain pastor of a large church was reported as saying he would never hire a pastor that did not have a college education. It is interesting that the head of the church, Jesus, doesn’t qualify to work in his own organization. The religious leaders of Jesus time felt the same way. They remarked that he had not gone to school so, “Where did he get this teaching?” This pastor and the Pharisees felt they had nothing to learn from someone who had not gone to school.
The stigma of skin color and other physical features, perceived intelligence, wealth, cultural heritage, language, weight, youth, lack of youth, all claim to inform me about someone without me having to do the work of getting to know real individuals. When I do get to know real individuals they are always more wonderful than the lying, deceiving stigma told me they would be.
So what do you know?