Monday, March 3, 2014

Responding to Ignorance

Ignorance is everywhere. It is what we all have in common. As much as we have the capacity for ignorance, we also have the same capacity for understanding, for patience and for compassion. How we respond to the ignorance within us should parallel the response to the ignorance we encounter of others. It is common to do otherwise.

It is only natural to want the negative attention that ignorance can provide to be focused onto someone else instead of acknowledging our own. Somehow, it may make us feel better about ourselves. “At least we’re not ‘that’ wrong. At least we’re not ‘that’ ignorant.” However, we were probably that child that didn’t believe the burner on the stovetop was burning hot. We probably weren’t born with an elaborate understanding of our complex world either.

Scientists still discover and expose the mistaken views we had and still have about the physical universe. In science, you have a theory and you create an experiment to determine its veracity. If the theory is disproven, scientists don’t feel guilt or shame over being wrong. Instead, they learn from the experiment, modify or adjust their theory and begin anew. The response to ignorance within science is relentlessness. 

Scientific method is useful, but it doesn’t yield much guidance with how we conduct our lives. Religions attempt to make sense of the intersection of our complex, intricate lives with that of the rest of society. These can be used as weapons against others as opposed to helping others. Often, religious texts are cherry-picked to suit personal agendas. Religion should bring people together, not to isolate and to discriminate. People can claim to know the truth, but if that truth is about someone else, maybe further examination is required.

Religious devotees can easily be led to never challenge their religious texts or their religious leaders. Instead of using their religion to broaden their worldview and their view of others, they use it to create an us versus them, good versus evil dynamic. Instead of finding truth about themselves, they believe they’ve found it about others. 

Somehow, truth always seems so fleeting. The world is constantly evolving, and so must our understanding of it and of ourselves. We are really the mirror of the universe. What is possible out there is really within us wherever we are and in whatever we do.

We can see clearly the train heading down the tracks, but that’s only because we can see it. The man on the tracks is completely unaware while facing the opposite direction wearing his noise-cancelling earphones. We could also be on the train in a passenger car being led by someone else. Maybe, the track isn’t finished, ends in a dead end, or worse a bridge is out up ahead. We have to make an effort to see where we are or we will forever remain ignorant to our own reality.

Our consciousness makes these choices constantly. Often, the conscious mind decides not to make these mental choices, remaining neutral as opposed to engaging with the miracle that is life, living and society. Other times, our mind finds attraction and aversion more suitable. As much as we gravitate toward this ideal, toward that person, toward a feeling or a sensation, we turn away from others as well. Instead of broadening our awareness, we continuously limit it. Like the man on the tracks, we have our earphones on to our own oblivious nature. We can’t hear the train and may even ignore the vibrations. Like those asleep in the passenger cars, we don’t realize we are heading over a cliff.

We have all held ignorant views during this lifetime. It is how we respond to ignorance that is most important. Holding onto our views is the concern, and we are all surrounded by those who desperately need to hold onto their own. We can do something about ignorance, and it starts with our own. Before we judge others’ ignorance, we should first examine our own.

We can get out of the way of the train of ignorance through our presence and awareness. Also, we need to make sure we’re not on our own train. We need to know if there’s someone on the track up ahead that’s not paying attention. We need to know if we’re heading over a cliff or speeding toward the end of the line.

We respond to ignorance by examining ourselves, others and the world in which we live. We don’t have to simply live with it. We can do something about it. We need only be relentless in our understanding, expansive with our patience and ever deepening our compassion. It certainly isn’t easy to be surrounded by ignorance, but it’s so much more difficult to live that way and not do something about it.

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