“Ignorance is Bliss”

I am a big fan of CBS Sunday Morning – in fact, I DVR it every week to be sure I never miss an episode. I have learned so much from the show over the years because they report interesting and quirky news stories that you cannot find anywhere else. And that is where today’s post comes from – a piece done on CBS Sunday Morning by Mo Rocca.

We have all heard this term in various areas – work, family, friends. But where did the phrase actually come from? Most say it’s from a poem by Thomas Gray from 1742 (although of course there is debate over this), but I like the idea that it could have come from the details behind the assassination of President Garfield.

The brief story: When President Garfield was shot in 1881, the wound was not fatal, it was the treatment by his doctor, Dr. BLISS, and the infection that ensued that finally killed Garfield. Dr. Bliss, took control of Garfield’s care when there were several doctors fighting over what to do and became the President’s self-appointed physician. He won the spot by his charisma, willpower, and most likely, his bossiness. But he didn’t know what he was doing – not really. He was so enamored by the power that came with being the President’s doctor that he refused to listen to his colleagues who could have saved Garfield’s life. So Garfield died, due to Bliss’s ignorance of treating his patient – ignorance = Dr. Bliss.

This story captured my attention because it is still a relevant theme in today’s work environment. Hopefully people are not going to die due to your ignorance, but how many times have you taken over a project, or gone in one direction, or completely shut-out competing ideas? At higher levels within an organization, this happens all of the time – someone wants to be recognized for having the solution, the politics are in full-effect, subordinates can’t possibly know more about a situation than they do, and so on.

We don’t know, what we don’t know – hence, ignorance is bliss.

I can recall several times in my career when I thought I absolutely knew best and refused to allow others’ to influence my approach. I blamed it on “my personality,” but in all honesty, it’s a character flaw. I was not at all open to suggestions, feedback, or alternative solutions. And that pissed people off. A few of those times, I was acting out of ignorance – someone else probably had valuable information that could have benefited the project. I can’t remember what exactly helped me change my approach, perhaps a stern word from a boss or I just grew up a bit, but I absolutely value other’s input now. And I have many examples where it provided valuable data and helped me succeed – an editor who pointed out a faulty sentence, a friend who interpreted a post different than I had intended it, a coworker who provided a difference perspective, and so on.

So I ask you to take pause. You do not want to be known as “Dr. Bliss” – operating without all of the available knowledge; not letting other experts in. Consider the value, even at the risk of your own ego, of letting others become your partner in finding a solution.