In the End, There It Is: A Commentary on Willful Ignorance
During my sophomore year of college, I was having a soon-to-be argument with a friend while folding laundry when I unintentionally hit a nerve. To preface, when I alight on a pleasant-sounding phrase in my mind, I have a habit of rolling out before people the illegible map of my thoughts, as if to test how the words sound before I write them somewhere. I do this a lot, sometimes without realizing. I am a writer, after all. But it has its consequences.
In reference to a group of people we were frequently hanging out with at parties, I blurted out:
“It’s like you have to have either half a brain or half a heart to live among them.”
I’m not proud of having made this particular statement now, especially considering that same friend routinely quotes me five years after the fact. It was harsh, to talk about our peers that way, and, really, it encompassed our behavior, too. But I was not saying the people we knew were either apathetic or foolish. Rather, I felt that in order to hang out with them at their tailgates and house parties, one either had to partially dismiss their better judgment or partially numb the full breadth of their emotional intelligence. In other words, they had to assume willful ignorance of either what they knew in their minds to be right or what they felt in their hearts to be true, all just to fit in. I included myself in this thought, but the defensive response my friend had that particular laundry day signified willful ignorance is a foe we all face, one that often gets the best of us.
Let’s Not Go There
No matter what phase of life I enter into, it seems this theme is ever-present among myself and those I care about: to each of us, there are realities, truths of life or belief, that we’d rather not deal with. And in order not to deal with them, we ignore what our hearts or minds, or both, are attempting to tell us. A lot of the time, we’re doing it to fit in, or to make our lives more comfortable. Our inner dialogue is a resounding, “Yeah, let’s not go there,” to our ultimate detriment. The realities each of us choose not to deal with vary from person to person, but I’ve witnessed myself and others hide from the deeper truths of relationships, finances, schooling, career paths, social injustices, familial strife, and personal afflictions, be they physical, mental, or emotional. We plead ignorance so we don’t have to burden ourselves or others with the task of acting on whatever truth we’d prefer to deny. But pretending something doesn’t exist for the sake of easing your conscience or safeguarding your lifestyle does not mitigate its existence. It just removes you from the opportunity to be a factor of change.
Comfort over Confrontation
To exemplify this idea, something I wrestle with is entering into discussions about my faith with people I know to be hostile towards Christianity. I want to say I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed confrontation, but I grew up running around the halls of my father’s law firm, so that wouldn’t be entirely true. Still, few of us march up to the opportunity to proclaim what we believe. I’ve read books and sought counsel on how to step into these conversations, but sometimes it’s so much easier to pretend I don’t know what to say or how to say it, especially if I feel this person will attack my stance. As a Christian, and as a youth pastor, these discussions are incredibly important to me; I know to be willfully ignorant on how to have them is dishonoring of Christ. These talks are also quite rare, I’ve found, so to bypass them out of fear is a loss of opportunity to bridge perspectives with other people.
It’s this similar measure of confrontation we often avoid within ourselves when it comes to the more challenging aspects of life. What we know to be true is not always what we understand to be enjoyable, especially if such truth requires us to take actions we’d rather not—starting a conversation with a significant other about important topics that could reframe your compatibility, picking up the unopened bank statement on your desk to finally determine where your finances stand—these things are not easy. But necessary tasks rarely are.
In the end
Perhaps it’s because I’m standing on the precipice of my 25th birthday, but the stakes in life seem so much higher these days. The decisions my peers and I make right now, including the opinions we adopt, the friends we choose, and the partners we marry, are all real, impactful, often life-altering moments. And seeing as we’re adults, it’s no longer acceptable—indeed, it’s harmful—to claim ignorance about those facets of life which matter most.
As Winston Churchill once said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Given the polarizing state of society in these times, it’s imperative we each embrace our realities, and live in them as loyally to what we believe in as we’re capable. Ultimately, it comes down to this: we can’t afford not to act on all that we know to be true of ourselves, of each other, and the world.