I‘ve already begun this on a controversial note, because my title is based on a John Mayer song, and we all know he’s quite the headcase. Confession: I do still listen to his music. He knows how to talk about being an imperfect being in a manner that struck a cord when I was in middle school, and so now listening is sort of watching, in semi-real-time, his progression into a blossomed version of that confused being. Art gives us this ability to look at whole lives or parts, and learn from both almost equally.
If, though, you’re familiar with the particular song, “My Stupid Mouth”, you know it’s about a young man who said something rather stupid, and describes the myriad of thoughts crossing his mind as he comes to understand the implications of words that cannot be taken back and how they may have irreversibly changed the dynamics of a pretty important relationship to him. He’s embarrassed.
So am I, right now. It’s not the first time, but my life parallels a Mayer tune. I’ll be laying on a leather couch and fleshing that one out very soon.
Most of us though, at one point or another, have been on either the giving or receiving end of an offensive statement. I most certainly have. In my life, I’ve come to find most of these moments to be rooted in ignorance. Ignorance of empathy and understanding, ignorance of the impact of ill-intent and simply not caring about others’ feelings on the world, even ignorance of ignorance.
In a recent situation I was called to terms on what I thought to be a harmless statement, and forced to deal with the ramifications of my own ignorance. Both on our friendship and my understanding of where I am in life, as well as on my understanding of ignorance itself.
Having been on the receiving end of such treatment I immediately recalled that I’ve shut down many people for the same sort of deed. This made me realize that I could lose a friend, which is dreadful. It also made me see that not all of those I have cut off were close-minded, and that a couple of them could have probably benefited from me sticking around and explaining the situation, resulting in us both coming out wiser and closer.
I’ve become quite closed off to the notion of teaching people. Lately I’ve been frustrated and disgusted so much by some people’s mentalities that I’ve stopped looking for those I cross paths with who want to see things differently, finding comfort in those who see things the same as I. This was a faux safety and almost direct denial of reality, as no two people see the world the same. The person this interaction occurred with was within the circle of people I find refuge in from the insanity of the mentalities I mentioned earlier. Low and behold, I was the offensive party.
I was called a “self-proclaimed woke” person. I’ve used this term myself, so I know of the vigor behind its application and have always seen such statements as irrevocable. “Now I’ll never be woke, for real” is what I wanted to feel, for a moment.
And this was a problem.
I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what I’d said or done, and didn’t even feel safe asking, because of how I’d treated people in the past and because of how society paints ignorance as a homogenous block of same, rather than as countless lives of difference all bringing us to this very moment where we’re clearly not all on one accord. There are many people with the biggest of hearts and most open of minds who simply have not met the person yet that can make them see things differently.
Either way, looking back, what was meant to be a joke was received, understandably, as condescending and made someone I care for see me differently. This is life.
Why am I sharing this with you?
The only escape from ignorance is knowledge. And though we must never accommodate and excuse its presence, we must realize that ignorance is for one reason or another, and in one way or another, the result of an unformed mind.
Besides my mom and a few close relatives and friends, I don’t know many teachers. Most people I know do not have the life calling of developing young minds, and surely not adult minds. So it’s completely understandable that I commonly hear the sentiment “it’s not my job to teach those people what they don’t know”. Very true. However, what do we, as a society, do with those aware that their ways need work but lacking the experience or constructive criticism to pinpoint areas for improvement?
I do consider myself “woke.” I suppose this is my self-proclamation. This is not because I’m without flaw or containing of the whole of knowledge on issues of inequality and oppression, conspiracy and suppression, but because I am committed to existing as a being who cares enough to change and to work to make it happen in a world where I see countless souls completely content in not changing a single thing.
Do I know every aspect of how I may have offended someone in the past or present? No. Am I aware of the experiences of all oppressed and silenced people? No , only my own experiences and those I’ve read or have been shared with me. However, I am committed to learning daily how to better function as a member of the human race where we are all tethered and codependent.
Our world needs safe space for the facilitation of interactions and dialogues that supplement self-discovery and call people on their shit, making certain we are all moving at the same solo-paces, towards the finish line of communal elevation.
You could be the catalyst for someone else’s growth. Don’t accommodate, but be open enough to see those looking to be better. If you can, help. I know at least one person I’ve cut off who could have benefited from a different reaction and approach to ignorance I know wasn’t rooted in hate, but in inexperience and simply not having met one willing to call them out.
We are all where we are. But not all of us want to stay the same, and I think our world needs to be welcoming not only of growth but also understanding of the process’ components as we all work to figure out this thing called life.