I’ve found myself sort of fond of the saying, “ignorance is bliss” because most of the time it really is. When one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, life tends to be simpler and perhaps even happier. When it comes to tragedy, suffering, and oppression in our country and in our world today, ignorance truly is bliss. There is an enormous amount of human suffering that is being endured every day in our world, whether it is violence and destruction in war-torn nations of Africa, the rebuilding amongst the devastation in Haiti and Japan, and even the hunger faced by children within America. Every day, across the globe, people of every age, gender, and ethnicity face starvation, violence, poverty, destruction, and much more; it can be overwhelming – if we choose to think about it.
In America, and I imagine in other parts of the world as well, those of us who are fortunate enough to not be facing horrific suffering on a daily basis are often oblivious and unaware of the pain and anguish of our fellow human beings because, if we are honest, it’s easier to be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us than to really have to think about, and even more difficult, attempt to resolve the suffering of our fellow human beings. We go through life every day purposefully oblivious to the needs of our fellow human beings; we drive on the interstate over poverty-stricken neighborhoods , into our gated communities, and park in our attached garages without having to actually step foot in the world. We busy ourselves with meaningless pursuits of wealth, materialism, and entertainment while we complain about how “busy” and “stressful” our life is. Imagine telling a mother of starving children in Africa about our “hectic” lives while she mixes some rice and water together to soothe her children’s growling stomachs.
If only ignorance was our only fault, for we just as often look the other way. When the TV commercials come on for Feed the Children or a similar organization and we see children’s bloated stomachs and their desperate, sullen faces we quickly change the channel or leave the room. When we see the man or woman begging on the side of the road, we drive on by either ignoring their plea or criticizing them for panhandling or simply trying to fund their addiction. Or perhaps we even demean them if they have a pet along – for what person destitute and devoid of relationships wouldn’t treasure the companionship of a pet. Yes, it’s easier to look away or to change the channel than ask how there cannot be enough food for starving children across the world when America throws away millions of tons of food each year. Our demand for fully stocked food shelves – and the resulting waste of much of that food – would surely make one question how there cannot be enough food to feed the masses.
If only ignorance or intentional blindness was our only faults, but today there is a new buzz phrase floating around; the mantra of “taking personal responsibility.” This is perhaps the most ingenious phrase ever thought up in regard to the vast amount of suffering in the world or even in America alone. By insinuating a lack of responsibility on the part of the less fortunate, we can not only sooth our conscience, we can actually establish ourselves as being not only economically but also morally superior. We are not responsible for the trials and tribulations facing the less fortunate, they are a product of their own creation; never mind that we constantly ship jobs overseas, lower wages, defund education, cut programs… besides people should have to face the consequence of their “sins.” Right?
If these were the worst attitudes prevalent today, our world would be in enough peril as it is, but I’m afraid there is another attitude far more dangerous – that of pessimistic acceptance -- there’s nothing that can be done, my efforts are not even a drop in the bucket, the forces at work are too great to be changed… In a word, the tragedy seen in the world today can be simply overwhelming. I was sitting in church one Sunday when I heard a prayer request for a young adult who had been hospitalized for depression. It was said that the pain and suffering seen in the world today had been “overwhelming.” Chills went down my body as I heard the news and I found myself a bit envious, for when one stops and thinks about the violence, the starvation, and the poverty facing millions and probably billions in our world today – overwhelming is just about the best way to describe it. Wouldn’t it be easier to be in safe, sterile environment, tucked away from all the suffering going on every day? When even stopping for a moment to consider the dreadful situations human beings have to try to live through every day, a hospital doesn’t seem like such a bad option; because in reality it’s far too painful to even think about what’s happening – it’s simply overwhelming. In comparison to this dreadful, debilitating feeling of overwhelming sorrow and frustration for our fellow humans, ignorance or willful blindness seem like much better options, if only because they are just easier.
And so this is where I find myself asking, where do we go from here? What can be done? Can anything be done? Perhaps this is where faith can come into play, whether it be faith in humanity, faith in love, or faith in a Supreme Being that can and will right all wrongs – for without faith I wonder, what’s the point anymore…