Ignorance is Not Bliss

Ignorance is Not Bliss

This morning I took all of my children to the doctor’s office for my oldest son’s well-child appointment. They were as quiet and respectful as is humanly possible for 5 boys under 10 years old, and so I decided to treat them with a trip to a nearby park. The only problem: I had no idea how to get there.  I made my best guess and turned onto a road that I had never been on before.

I pulled up to a stop sign and waited for the traffic to clear so that I could drive through the intersection. I waited for the cars to drive past. But they stopped also. I thought it was weird that they were stopping, so I took a second to look around. Did someone just run out into the road?

It took a moment for it to register that, no, they were waiting for me.  I realized that I was at a 4-way-stop, and the other cars had also stopped at their stop sign.

I had the right-of-way and didn’t know it.

It was obvious that the other drivers knew the rules of this road. A woman in one of the cars was very upset with me and my ignorance. And she expressed her frustration in all kinds of fun ways – some yelling, some horn honking, some dramatic PG-13 gestures.

Why? Because I didn’t know something that I should have known.

As I continued on my way I ran through a whole gamut of emotions. I felt foolish and embarrassed because I should have been paying better attention. Then I felt annoyed that she was so upset with me. By the time we got to the park I was a defensive and a little angry.    

It got me thinking about other interactions I’ve had.  Times when I encounter someone who doesn’t know something that I know, someone who doesn’t believe something that I believe.

It’s easy to be annoyed and frustrated with others because they don’t know something, because they don’t see things the way that I do. It’s easy to become self-righteous, judgmental and rude.

It’s easy to forget that, once upon a time, I didn’t know some of these very same things. For example: I remember the very first time I heard that some birth control methods could potentially and unknowingly cause an abortion. I was shocked! I was 18 years old and I decided right then and there that I would never use birth control.

But most people do not change their minds that quickly! It takes time. It’s a slow process. For most people, a change in view-point happens gradually.  I believe that we can help or hurt this process by the way we treat others.

I think of interactions that pro-lifers have with those who are pro-choice, online and in real life.

Are we helping the pro-life movement if we treat others with disdain? With sarcasm and frustration?

Do we respond to others like the irate lady I met at the 4-way-stop? Like they are the world’s biggest idiot? Like they should just KNOW something they maybe have never heard before? Do they leave the interaction defensive and angry? Do we make them feel foolish and ignorant?

Or are we treating all people with love and respect? Are we kind and gracious? Do we have compassion and sympathy? I saw this great quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen the other day:

If you go into the world with the idea that everyone is an enemy or a bigot you will be surprised how many enemies and bigots you will meet. But if you go into the world with the assurance that everyone is looking for Our Lord, you will be surprised how many lovable people you meet. I am meeting them everywhere. Plant love where you find it, and everyone will be lovable!

I am grateful for the little traffic mix-up I had today. It’s good to be humbled like that every once in a while. I said a prayer for the woman in the other vehicle. Maybe she was running late for a job interview or maybe she was on her way to visit someone in the hospital. It was good to be reminded of what it feels like to be treated poorly. Hopefully I’ll remember those feelings the next time I encounter someone who doesn’t know something I think they should.