Ignorance: Is It Really Bliss?

Last Friday, I sat down to write an article about the notion of “ignorance is bliss.” I didn’t get to it right away. And on January 8, 2011, Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona by a would-be assassin. I followed the story all day Saturday and most of Sunday, learning in real time the details of the 19 others who were wounded and of the six who were killed. I spent much of the day feeling as helpless and sick about the tragedy as did millions of others across the world.

So now I pick up the idea of “ignorance is bliss” once more, after a weekend that felt a little like that Tuesday in September, 2001, when the world watched the World Trade Center fall, the Pentagon burn, and a plane crash in Pennsylvania. The news coming out of Arizona was and still is simply heartbreaking. Trying to make sense of it seems completely futile, as inevitably the deaths of innocent people are.

So. Ignorance is bliss. But if that’s true, then I should have turned off the TV at the first sign of trouble and spent the weekend going about my own private business. Right? JWT Intelligence recently touted that “ignorance is bliss” in their roundup of the 100 Things to Watch in 2011. As JWT Intelligence reports, “From general privacy concerns raised by tools like Google Maps with street view to personal security concerns around broadcasting one’s whereabouts on Facebook or Foursquare to national security concerns around the information disclosed by Wikileaks, more people question how much information really needs to be readily available.” In the age of information, how much knowledge is too much?

JWT Intelligence refers to the dissemination of our own information rather than the taking in of others. But there’s an argument for both ways. When a tragedy occurs, is it better to know all the details when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it? And conversely, in this era of over-sharing, are we compromising ourselves by letting the world in on our own minute details? According to this line of thought, yes, ignorance is not only bliss, but integral to our own personal safety.

So where is the line? Certainly, there is some validity to the argument that we have become so immersed in over sharing that we risk losing our individuality into one massive glob of Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare. With so many people shouting into the wind, who do we listen to? And more to the point, who has has something worthwhile to hear?

And perhaps there would be “bliss” in cutting ourselves off from the information highway – or at least, its 24-hour daily update thread. But that would be a bliss many don’t want a part of, myself included. Yes, I could have turned away from the tragedy in Arizona. I was hundreds of miles away at the time. I couldn’t go give blood. I couldn’t comfort the families of the victims. But then, I would have never heard the stories of the incredibly brave people who fought shooter Jared Loughner. I kept watching the events unfold in Arizona to hear some positive news – and finally, it came with the acknowledgment of the heroes of the day.

There’s retired Army colonel Bill Badger who, though shot himself, clocked the shooter over the head with a folding chair and then held his wrist until authorities arrived.

There’s Patricia Maisch, 61, who grabbed the shooter’s magazine when he dropped it.

There’s Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez, 20, who is credited with saving Rep. Giffords life by applying pressure to her wound right after she was shot.

And there’s countless more to be honored because they were doing the right thing at the right time.

There would have been no bliss in staying ignorant of their acts.

Image: kenlund

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.