To live a life in the unknown is to live innocently. It means to live without asking and seeking information about existential questions. Sounds complex? Let me give you an example. Suppose, one has to go on a date. To live innocently is to simply go without pre-gathering information about what ‘usually’ happens on a date, without seeking information from the already experienced.
To approach a life situation, romance or otherwise, without knowing the norms, patterns or trends is to live in the unknown, innocently. But we seldom live so fresh. We gather information in advance, picture out the map, make-up an attitude, and prepare ourselves for anything and everything. We brief adolescents before they enter college and prepare ourselves idiotically before interviews, form prejudices about power-politics before joining an office, learn about sex before entering a relationship or marriage and collect ideas about the world and God even before we have learnt to live fully in the moment.
So you see, we are always pre-programmed about everything and we are happy about being confident and never being at loss in any life situation. This to us is being ‘smart’ and those who are not informed well enough are categorised as fools. This means that the whole society consists of either smart people or fools. Does this mean that fools are innocent people? Is being ignorant, living innocently? The answer is NO. There is a difference.
The difference is that an ignorant person does not change in spite of the demands of his/her immediate environment and an innocent person does not mind changing oneself if need be. In fact an innocent person keeps learning constantly because, as we said earlier, she/he does not have piled up knowledge. Usually a fool sets out in the world uninformed and meets failure. Immediately his social circle provides him with the recipe of smartness which he hogs in desperation and thus is made into a smart man of modern times.
On the other hand, an innocent man is willing to be on his own. He is willing to see his own flaws and willing to politely argue. He weighs his convictions against the norms and arrives at solutions of his own. He may also bring about a change in his immediate surroundings not because he aims to bring about a revolution but because his novel, unconventional behaviour subtly inspires others around him to peep within themselves and revise the norms and change them if need be.
An ignorant fool in contrast is rigid to change and prolongs his suffering or continues to be bullied by others while the innocent sets out to explore his own path. Is it not easier to just learn smart tricks? Yes, it is. Using formulae is far simpler than arriving at axioms! But have you ever been through the exhilaration of exploring your own axioms, your own truths? Have you kept aside everything before approaching a thing?
I mean, have you really moved a step without a sense of direction, without a map? Try these little things. Try rolling out chappatis without any help if you have never done it before. Cook a recipe without a recipe. Start a journey without too much planning. Play with your kids, a game you do not know much about. Just do things without being knowledgeable, small things, as many as you can risk. And you just might get the taste of unfettered exploration. Perhaps the taste of innocence too.
Nilesh P Megnani is a professor of philosophy