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“What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You”

In our continuing series about the stuff that “THEY” have taught us, let’s look at the popular saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Really?

When I was growing up, “THEY” were full of idioms and shared them with me as “points of learning.” The two phrases I remember repeated often were, “ignorance is bliss” and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” They seemed to go hand in hand, and I became convinced that there were things in life that I was better off not knowing. I bought into the concept, but as I grew older and wiser (I hope), I came to see the flaws in the supposed logic.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, the oldest written version of the saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” comes from 1576, in Petit Palace by G. Pettie. “So long as I know it not, it hurteth me not.” More recent practical experience, as well as empirical research, suggests the opposite. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

I met recently with a prospective client who shared with me a little about his search in finding a new insurance agent. I had a similar story so we sort of commiserated about the fact that we were both overpaying for our coverages (and never using those coverages). Neither he nor I knowingly did that — we just didn’t know. Was it fatal? No. Was it costly? Yes!

The news is full of stories of people that did “stupid things” and got injured or killed. Did they do it knowingly? I doubt it. There are things that all of us don’t know. I, for example, don’t know how to work with electricity. If I try, I may get hurt, but how is that possible if “THEY” are right?

Frequently, we have people come into our office who believe they are doing everything right, but upon analysis it turns out they are not. Ignorance in NOT bliss. Not knowing how much to pay in taxes is not going to buy you any favor with the IRS. There are behaviors and strategies to employ that may allow you to put more aside for retirement — if you don’t know about them will it kill you? No, but it may make retirement a little more challenging financially. The point is this: it’s what you don’t know that will hurt you.

 

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