The Best of Andy Rooney

Considering how much we profess to admire education, it's funny how often we take pride in our ignorance.

A psychiatrist might have the answer to that problem, except psychiatrists are as proud of not knowing something as the rest of us.

Years ago, I was skiing with a man I'd met just a few days earlier in the lodge. All I knew about him was that he was a doctor. I took a bad, head-over-heels-skis-and-all fall and dislocated my right shoulder. The doctor schussed to a stop next to me.

"You all right?" he asked, even though it should have been obvious that I wasn't all right.

"Not good," I gasped. "Take a look at this, would you? I think I broke my shoulder."

"Gosh, I wouldn't know," he said with some pride. "I'm a psychiatrist."

Everyone does it with one topic or another. They say, "I'm not good at geography." "I can't spell." "I wish I understood math." They wear their ignorance as a badge of honor.

It's a mystery to me why we're all so proud when it comes to not knowing something. If you're driving a car and you stop and lower the window to ask directions, the person you ask seems especially pleased to be able to say, "Gee, I can't tell you. I'm a stranger here myself."

You can't complain about someone not knowing how to get somewhere in town if he's a stranger but why is he so pleased with himself for not knowing? I suppose it's because we feel that ignorance absolves us of all responsibility.

There are people who are proud of not knowing almost everything. A favorite, all-purpose answer you hear every day is, "Beats the hell outta me."

We know a capable woman who sails a boat alone all over a lake even in heavy winds but she loves to say, "I don't know how to drive." It's almost as if she thinks not knowing how to drive is one of the things she does best.

I'm not knocking the whole rest of the world and not taking any blame myself. I often say, "I'm sorry my handwriting is so bad." And my handwriting is bad, too, but it's nothing to be proud of, and instead of proclaiming it as if it was a virtue, I damned well ought to try to improve my handwriting.

And, like almost everyone else, I often say, "I'm not good with figures."

This makes me a wonderful person?

There's a whole array of shortcomings we have that we brag about, as though stupidity made us special. For instance, I'm suspicious of the person who's always saying, "I'm color-blind." Well, he may have some problem, but I'm convinced that half the time color blindness is an affectation people assume for some small pleasure they take from being special. I suppose now I'll be getting an angry letter from The Association for Color-Confused Americans. Left-handers love it when something is inconvenient for them to do. There's nothing wrong with it, but I see no great virtue in being left-handed. They got hold of a bad gene is all.

There's no question that there are some advantages to being really ignorant. If you're dumb and uninformed about everything, no one can beat you in an argument. That may account for why so many people seem to enjoy not knowing anything. They're dumb but happy.

This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Sept. 16, 1993.)

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