Imagine if someone grabs a microphone and a camera to interview people who have no access to any formal educational system and are completely illiterate. Now imagine this person shows these people flashcards with what you and I would consider very simple words: dog, cat, box, etc., and asks them to read it. And they struggle. And mispronounce dog. And have no idea what sound the letter C makes. And they’re mocked for it. The interviewer makes fun of them, confrontationally “schools” them in what is so completely obvious to the rest of us who know how to read, broadcasts that video on national television, and shares it across social media platforms. Would you watch it? Would it feel right to laugh at that? I don’t think it would. I think I’d feel sad. And enraged at the injustice. Because that person is so clearly lacking a type of knowledge that should be the fundamental right of every single person to attain. If the ultimate goal is eradicating illiteracy – as it should be – then making fun of people for being illiterate does absolutely nothing. If anything, it will only dishearten them and further push them away from trying to attain it.
I feel like something similar is happening in all these videos where someone says something ignorant and someone else confrontationally lays out all the reasons why that person is so blatantly wrong. Sure, the social implications of ignorance in literacy (not being able to read and write) are very different from the implications that come with ignorance of humanity’s essential oneness (hatred, racism, violence), but I think it’s a pretty fair analogy. Both situations are about a human being’s lack of knowledge – academic in the former, moral in the latter – being met with contempt, superiority, and self-satisfaction. In both situations, the person doing the “schooling” doesn’t really care about understanding the other’s point of view or finding the specific way in which that person could eventually – hopefully – be made to see differently. Instead, more than anything, it’s about someone (rightly) feeling angry for hearing something so hateful and (wrongly) wanting to make their voices heard more so than showing their fellow human being love and patience.
I truly believe that the root cause of the world’s problems is ignorance. And I mean that in the most basic dictionary definition of the word: “a lack of knowledge or information.” Whether we’re talking about racism, misogyny, contempt for the poor, selfishness, corruption, illiteracy, or whatever, it comes down to ignorance. I emphasize this point because it often feels like ignorance has come to mean something different. Some unalterable state of being. You’re either ignorant and incorrigible, or you just somehow – magically? – know better. But ignorance can be changed, and has only one solution: education. And the “problem” with education is that it takes time – much more than a 5-minute sit-down interview or passionately-worded Facebook post could ever allow for. It also takes patience. And love.
In other words, the kind of education I’m talking about – the kind that will eventually and ultimately rid us of all the systemic injustice – takes unconditionally loving relationships founded on accepting the inherent worth and value of every single human life as an incontrovertible fact worth fighting for. (And by fighting, I don’t mean actual fighting, because I don’t think any confrontational or conflictual approach to social change is sustainable – but that’s a subject for another post).
My problem with people being crushed for their ignorance is that they are essentially being mocked and shamed for their lack of education. It doesn’t actually do anything towards eradicating that ignorance. It’s like trying to teach a child that 2 + 2 = 4 by repeatedly telling them how stupid they are for not knowing that 2 + 2 = 4. There is no growth for anyone in that situation. I think the best teachers would know to first ascertain what the child already knows about numbers and where they’re coming from in terms of their life experiences before deciding on a specifically individualized course of action for that one student to internalize the concepts needed to fully understand why 2 + 2 = 4. Above all, that educator would help the child out of love. Because their goal isn’t for the child to agree with them, but for the child to grow and advance along their individual educational journey. So that they can eventually, in turn, help others along their respective paths.
I feel like I’m just barely scratching the surface here, but I’ll stop this here for now. I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic again some time. I guess I’ll leave you with this question: have you ever actually learned anything – I mean really learned it – by having someone tell you how wrong and stupid you are for not knowing that thing already?