Overcoming Willful Ignorance

One of the good things 2020 has given me is reconnection with old friends. For the past few months, I have been meeting weekly with a chum from college, Sammy. We have terrific conversations which range from intelligent and informed to silly and sassy.

One of the phrases Sammy uses frequently is how people being “willfully ignorant” really upsets him. To him, the right action, the right thought, the right way to be is obvious. And if it is obvious to him, that means other people are choosing to be contrary to what is right and definitely true. This week however, Sammy shared a story where he was the one perceived as being willfully ignorant.

little sister mei mei the new puppy
Little sister Mei Mei

Sammy has been posting frequently about his soon-to-be new puppy from a breeder. I had thought it was strange that he would purchase from a breeder as I assumed he would choose a rescue as he had in the past. One of his other friends thought the same thing and confronted him with her anger that he would be so willfully ignorant in choosing to purchase a pet from a breeder. He was outraged that she could accuse him of doing something socially and ethically wrong. How dare she judge him without asking him why he was doing what he was doing. I shared with him that I too wondered why he went that route and he had a very valid reason; short story is one of his rescue dogs will not be in this world much longer and the remaining anxiety-ridden rescue dog needs a new safe non-threatening companion and a puppy from a breeder is the only option.

Inspired by this event, let us explore the concept of willful ignorance.  Through the rest of this article, think of when you have accused others or been accused yourself of willful ignorance and therefore judged and convicted of wrongdoing before all the facts were known.

Who Made You the Judge?

I am judgmental. It is my inherent nature. My Myers-Briggs and Enneagram results confirm this. Even if you are not inherently disposed to be judge and jury like me, we all have experienced times where we assumed we have the right to judge others. Unless we are literally an elected judge whose job it is to determine if an action goes against a law, we should not judge.

Judgment without Facts

Both myself and Sammy’s other friend assumed it was absolutely wrong that anyone would purchase from a breeder. Like most controversies today, we only saw black-and-white; either you adopted a pet, or you were a horrible person. Neither of us sought understanding before we passed our judgment.

Seeing Only from My Perspective

The problem with how we reacted to Sammy’s choice was that we judged his actions from our perspective, experience, and beliefs. We did not seek to find out his perspective and why he chose what he did. If we had, we would have understood his backstory and that he was making a conscious appropriate decision.

I was called-out on a similar unconscious bias a few weeks ago. I had posted a meme vigorously proclaiming how those who do not return shopping carts to the corrals are in the wrong. I had posted it because I like to return the shopping cart every time I am able as I know I am becoming self-absorbed when I don’t. What a friend pointed out to me is that I have no right to dictate or assume what others should do. He brought up valid points that those who do not return carts my be physically unable or that they may not have a car. Usually I think twice before I post and I didn’t this time. Honestly, I was so focused on my own thoughts, beliefs and actions, that I didn’t really read what the post was implying about others. I appreciated my friend calling me out on my self-focus.

It is Me and You not Us and Them

When we are caught up in our own beliefs and judgments, we group people as this label or that type making them lose their humanity. What is hurting our society right now is not only that we judge, but that we lump people into groups. We are all shades of gray. We are all good and bad. We all have value and we all have foibles. When we dump someone into a group or a label, we miss out on connection and understanding.

As you go about your week, look for your desire and need to judge others. Watch how you lump people together by one action or aspect of their being. Notice how you leap to conclusions without knowing the whole story. Instead, make real one-to-one connections and seek to understand. Understanding leads to empathy and change. We can make the world better, one interaction at a time.

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