The Choice of Ignorance

Does the title confuse you? Do you believe that no one chooses to be ignorant?

Until a few weeks ago, that was my belief. But recently, I came face to face with a person doing so, although ignorant of the ignorant choice. My further wonder led me to several examples of folks choosing ignorance. What compels me into this conversation is the deeper discovery: choosing ignorance is a moral issue. I will get to that. First, let's investigate the landscape of ignorance.

Ignorance can be divided into two categories: those who are truly ignorant and those who choose to be ignorant. Being truly ignorant is a condition for all human beings. The antidote to ignorance is curiosity and openness to learning. Living in a state of curiosity constantly offers up all of the places and situations we are ignorant. And, if our curiosity is met with complete openness, we see, we learn, we grow, we gain knowledge and - poof - ignorance vanishes, insight blossoms.

The second category of ignorance, one choosing to be ignorant, has been offered a gift of wisdom and chooses to ignore it. Ignorance and ignore come from the same Latin origin, ignorare, to not know. Ignoring is the action taken that produces ignorance.

My mother came up as my first example of ignorance choosing, although I am not faulting her. She married and one year later at the age of 21 gave birth to the first of four children each two years apart. My father, a farmer, was gone 12 hours in the day and she was overwhelmed. As the four of us traversed adolescence at roughly the same time, her nervous system could not handle, much less absorb, our teenage shenanigans. Her mantra was: what I don't know won't hurt me; the less I know the better. As a parent of teenagers, I can sympathize. Yet she chose ignorance and the consequences of this choice caused me, I won't speak for my siblings, to take reckless risks (luckily, I "turned out" ok.) More grippingly, I learned to withhold the truth rather than be transparent. Secrets do not keep one safe and they create distance in relationship. I suspect that is not the lesson she intended to teach.

Several years ago in a rigorous training program, I was called out on my way of being ignorant. Having skillfully kept my head in the sand about my capacities, and not willing to take full responsibility for my life and work and service, I was nailed (with warrior compassion) by the leader. With fearless depth, she called me on my defensive quip - attempting humor - and said, looking straight into my eyes and heart, "Gayle, you have a moral obligation." The jig is up. She was saying that I had a moral obligation to grow up and wake up. That if I possess the intelligence and healthy mind to see clearly, there is no other choice than to choose awareness. The clarity of that leader planted a seed in me worthy of watering.

Put ignorance and money together and one of the most powerful toxic myths about money comes to life. A conspirator to ignorance: Money is too hard to comprehend. People from all walks of life and IQ's will firmly protect their ignorance about money. They will say: I can't understand. Money is hard. This is really difficult. You know what? It is simply not so.

In a recent conversation, I was dumbstruck by a statement from a friend. She's smart, more evolved than most, committed to a spiritual path and she "just wants a paycheck." She doesn't want to know or understand her money situation and the broader concepts and influences of her finances. She's not interested in unwinding the deeper meaning and truth that money has to offer her. Just keep the distance - money is over there, the rest of my life is here; keep it basic, clear and an arm's length away from me. Then I can live the rest of my life. If I were a betting gal, and I'm not (I'd rather choose luck), my money would say that she is terrified about what she would discover and learn by facing her fear and uncertainty, which would eventually lead to her authentic liberating truth, about money.

And now the moral question.

Is fear, or any reaction, a good excuse to choose ignorance?

Tell me one living human being who has not experienced fear.

Here's the one-two pattern: emotion arises, something stares you right in your face, and you have a choice: open or close. Opening takes you in and allows the juice of life to flow. Opening allows clarity and wisdom to arise with skillful discernment. Closing is ignoring, rejecting, and disregarding the gift in front of you. It can also be an act of arrogance. It is brushing by the moral aspect of learning for the sake of self and others. For those of you reading and wobbling, allow your wobble to be an opening for moral development. Let me be clear. Opening can lead to a choice of ignoring. That's skillful discernment. But far too often opening is skipped by well-developed habits. This investigation is subtle and requires awareness, intention and practice.

Is it really "right" to choose ignorance when it is ignorance that causes so many of the heartaches and suffering in our world? Do we have a moral obligation to face into what comes our way? ... even if, or particularly if, it is scary?

I'm teetering the line of outrage and wonderment.

Consider your money matters. Are you open or closed?

The jig's up - you have a moral obligation.

Wielding a sword against ignorance,

Be Moved...
Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.
~ Dalai Lama

Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove  
the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.  
~ Mahatma Gandhi

People's ignorance really pisses me off. Stupidity is when you can't help it-ignorance is when you choose not to understand something. 
~ Sarah McLachlan