Oblivion, Innocence, Naivety, and Ignorance—all commonly used and catalogued as synonyms. But are they? What difference does it make any way? Aren’t the differences trivial? Upon examination, these words describe degrees on the spectrum of knowledge and experience. And recognizing these nuances is essential to affect particular meanings.
To start, being oblivious is like the marker on the spectrum. Oblivion is simply a lack of knowledge, and depending on how much one is oblivious, how high or low the meter indicates on the spectrum, indicating the degree of knowledge and insight. And, like golf, there is an inverse relationship between the degrees of oblivion and knowledge, a low degree of oblivion indicates a greater reservoir of knowledgeable about a thing. Likewise, the higher the marker of oblivion, the less knowledge about a thing. Note also that “knowledge” here is not all-encompassing. So while one might be oblivious about one thing, this does not mean that person is typically oblivious. Of course, like all samples, measuring the average, so to speak, would indicate an overall knowledge (I feel like I’m spelling out the algorithm of IQ tests). Now drawing our attention to the ranges, let us examine the nature and life of Innocence, Ignorance, and Naivety.
Innocence’s true sister synonym would seem to be purity. Innocence is the girl who has grown up in a good home with a loving mother and father. She spends her mornings reading poetry, philosophy, and theology; and her afternoons frolicking in the woods and attending to the garden. She is friends with the fox, not because he is tame, but because they are friends. She nourishes her body with the sun and fruit of the ground. Her hair is long, and chaste from the tones of dye or stress of bleach. Her skin is strong and sturdy from afternoon walks and sitting atop the tallest oak she can find. Her laugh is giddy and young, as when one understands a joke for the first time, continuing to laugh from sheer delight in the feeling of laughter itself. While she trips and scrapes her knee on occasion, these are results of her vivacity, as opposed to recklessness. While retaining a whimsical spirit, she has yet a timid poise, keeping her from the unknown unless advised by her parents. When offered wine she accepts. But when she’s invited to excess, she refuses. Her refusal stems from her reason that she has no reason to choose otherwise. Her experience informs her to decline, because she has no reason to take more, the glass is sufficient. She chooses the Good because it’s familiar, and declines anything else exactly because it’s unfamiliar. She is pure of the world’s ills.
Innocent’s cousin is Naivety. While related and a frequent visitor of Innocence during the holidays, her home life is not quite as pure. She has her miss-haps from her mischievous inclinations. But, like Anne of Green Gables, she corrects her actions after the first mistake. She changes her actions to avoid the pain and because she aspires to be like Innocence. So, when she is offered wine for the first time, she readily accepts, hearing from Innocence about how lovely it tastes. But, unlike Innocence, she accepts the second, third, and perhaps fourth glass of wine from curiosity—her Achilles’ heel. Thus, although Innocence has the same level of oblivion, Naivety fails to give thought to or consider potential harms. This results from oblivion clouding her thoughts and decisions. But this Oblivion is not Ignorance.
Recall the idiom, “Ignorance is bliss.” This bliss presumes being amiss. In other words, Ignorance knows that it doesn’t know. But Ignorance is not one, but three—identical triplets in fact; sharing the same structure, but differing in dispositions. There is Stubborn Ignorance, Passive Ignorance, and Active Ignorance. Stubborn Ignorance knows that she is ignorant, but opts out of acquiring knowledge. Passive Ignorance is modest enough to both admit her lack of knowledge but remains indifferent to acquiring knowledge unless for special interest. Active Ignorance, on the other hand, readily admits her shortcoming but then seeks to acquire the knowledge to the best of her ability. The meter of Oblivion can vary relative to Ignorance, ranging from the child unlearned in law to the lawyer who knows all but the new piece of evidence being brought forward.
Regardless of one’s “average knowledge,” no claim can be made or refuge taken in the shadow of Oblivion on the nature of these dispositions. And the responsibility about which triplet of Ignorance one befriends is irremissible.