midwestbuddha: (tree)
How much do you really know about your neighbor? Your friend? Your child? What faiths do they practice? If you discovered, for instance, that your neighbor was a Muslim, Your friend a Hindu, your child a Pagan…what would be your gut reaction?

Most probably, in today’s environment, you’d feel fear… Fear, born of ignorance.

Out of curiosity the other day, I opened my dictionary. Below is how it defines this word. Notice also the definitions of words on the same page. Interesting, don’t you think?

Ignorance—lack of knowledge

Ignoramus—ignorant person

Ignore—to intentionally disregard


Ignominious—shameful, humiliating

Ignoble—of low birth, position or reputation

Most of us are familiar with the definition of the first word (although it’s often incorrectly used as a synonym for stupidity). Few of us would care to embrace the image of ourselves as an ignoramus, although, in truth we are, yours truly included. I’m sure no one reading this wants to ignore our neighbor, child or friend, nor would we wish upon them ignominy or other ignominious incident. To do so would, doubtless, reflect our own ignoble origins. Let’s examine what these two classic authors had to say on the subject:

"Only ignorance! Only ignorance! How can you talk about only ignorance? Don't you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? And which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,' they think it is all right."

–Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

`Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

`Spirit, are they yours?' Scrooge could say no more.

`They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. `And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it,' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. `Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.'

--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Did you get chills as I did reading that last passage? Well, before you imagine that ignorance truly is the second greatest evil as Sewell suggests, consider these definitions, found a few pages further in my trusty dictionary. I submit to you that these go hand in hand with the former iniquity…

Torpor—a torpid condition

Torpid—sluggish, inactive, apathetic

It is said that the only thing evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. What then, I hear you ask, can I do to combat ignorance and apathy?

READ. LEARN. FEEL. It’s just that simple.

And, lest you think I am more learned than yourself, think again. For I too am an ignoramus, just as you—but be reassured: admitting it gets you halfway to recovery. The other half of the journey is up to us both…

I wish you Metta.


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June 2012

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