It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there.

In today’s polarized world, ignorance is one of the greatest crimes. Continually, someone is getting in trouble for saying something that offends someone. Sometimes these are words that are intentional in their direction of hurt. Other times they were phrases people grew up with that held no connotation to them. Historically some of these words did.

When I was in college, I remember one of my professors would always call the students a particular name. What it meant, I had no clue. He didn’t either. That is, until one of the students made a grievance. It turned out it was a racist phrase.

People continually are finding themselves in hot water because they have said or done something that has offended a person or group of people. The word ignorant has become a derogatory term to describe a person who is not, as the kids say, woke. The implication is that if you say certain things, do not know the history behind phrases or events, not understand the social impact regarding an incident or words spoken, you are evil in some way. We throw around words like racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. not truly understanding what these words mean. The people on the opposing side of the table, calling out for rightness, fairness, and equality, end up missing the point of how our society works. Not to mention followers of Jesus who, when calling out these actions, end up in the mud they are accusing their counterpart of (whether they are or not—whether intentional or ignorance).

However, let’s think through the question, is it wrong to be ignorant?

If we look at this black and white—right or wrong—we miss all the gray that NEEDS to be explored. I believe that as we look at the acceptableness of ignorance, we cannot separate the topic from transparency and grace.

Let’s tackle these in order: Transparency. Ignorance. Grace.

We need to have transparency in our lives. That does not mean that you must tell every little dirty sin to every single person. It does, however, mean that we must be willing to express what we feel, think, and believe to others. We must share our experiences with those close to us. If not, both us and others cannot reclaim the cultural wisdom we once had. The past is broken, but we have tried to learn from our mistakes, moving forward with better understanding through hearing each other’s stories and feelings. We don’t always get it right. Even after the third, fourth, fifth, or hundredth time. Maybe I’m an optimist or too hopeful, but I like to think we try and move forward, which means silence is not an option.

The silence I speak isn’t on the part of the perpetrator or the accuser. We must dialogue. Not scream and shout — not blame and ridicule. As a professional speaker and writer, I roll with others who speak and write for a living. There is a growing fear of saying the wrong thing. 

Fear stifles communication. You cannot communicate to fear or in fear. All fear does is cause us to react. React seems to be the one skill our culture has down pact. We must be willing to reveal ourselves. As Jordan Peterson writes,

If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself.

Next is ignorance. It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there. You are not going to know everything about everything. Furthermore, we need to stop expecting others to know what we know. As Michael Wilbon, the sports commentator points out continually whenever there is, specifically, a race issue in sports is that he doesn’t know what that person knows, he doesn’t know how or where he grew up. Can I say yes to that?! We need to have this perspective about ourselves and others. 

You are ignorant. There are things you don’t know. You are going to offend someone at some point in your life. Again, it’s O.K. to be ignorant. But also, don’t stop there. What I mean is we are going to hurt others, but let’s have open ears of learning. Let’s do better as we move forward. 

I once used a term that I thought was the appropriate word to describe someone and a friend who fell into that category took exception. He didn’t hate me, slander me, accuse me. What my friend did was to be a friend to me and have compassion in my ignorance. I listened, and I no longer use that phrase, why, because I had no idea it was the wrong one. Up to that point in my life, I had never been corrected, educated, or whatever. It was O.K. that I was ignorant. What would not be O.K. is for me not to listen, sympathize, and think of my fellow human being.

Finally, there is grace. We need it. No matter the pigment of our skin, our ancestral culture, how we identify, our gender, we need grace. We need it for ourselves, and we need to extend it to each other.

We can continue our battle of words, but in the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for ya?” We need to level our tone, and despite how hurt by others or maligned we feel, extend grace. Maybe they are ignorant. Perhaps they’re even an ignoranus. We extend grace because we need it sometimes, and so do others. 

Heck, if Jesus while on the cross, can look at his crucifiers, insulters, and accusers and say, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” I can choose to assume that when someone hurts me—saying something completely ignorant—that they do not know what they are saying. I can choose to respond in love. I can choose to inform in that same love. Most importantly, I can choose to model what repentance looks like by modelling it myself when I am called out.

Transparency will lead to ignorance, which means we must extend grace.

It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there.

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