We learn that there are things we should ignore. We are taught to disregard the ignorant and hurtful manifestations of bullies’ reactions to their own internalized insecurities. We need to let their words roll off our shoulders like we are made of ice—don’t fuel the fire. The nonbelievers, the naysayers, the haters are people we need to ignore as well. They’re just wing-clippers, waiting below us with nasty ulterior motives, determined to never see us soar, eager to watch us fail. We ignore the pangs of pain rippling through waves of exhaustion as our lungs tighten and our hearts pump, desperate for more air, when we return to the gym after a longer than intended hiatus. We pretend not to hear the inappropriate comments of relatives at holiday dinners (within reason) because we’re so rarely together, it’s not worth tarnishing the quality of quality time. We ignore the behavior of a stranger on a train who seems ready to snap; we dare not risk becoming the trigger that breaks the building tension.
There are times and places where perhaps, ignoring things is a form of poise, composure, and maturity—and the best solution. There are other instances, however, where to avert our eyes is a disservice, a potential disaster, the seed of a regret, or simply, wrong.
Here are some things we should not make habit of ignoring:
The pull of some deeper inclination, the urge of momentum—transcending our second thoughts, culminating until irresistible—for us to face some fate head on, to lean into a decision deliberately. The ingrained notion somewhere deep within us that recognizes the need to not cower, to not linger in uncertainty waiting to be consumed by anticipation’s guile, but to charge into the fray, gripping whatever reigns of circumstance are available, determined to emerge in better places, or at least to emerge with the kind of confidence that can only come from self-righteously trusting yourself.
2. Cries for help
When we see red flags—whether dancing in front of us, ablaze in flames, or in our peripherals, fleeting to the point that they might have been imagined—we must investigate them.
3. Wise words from loved ones, who have been there, done that, and know good and well how it turns out.
Sure, we have our own mistakes to make, our own lessons to learn, but they will be abundant. We don’t inhibit our own growth process by taking to heart the value offered us from lessons learned by others; if anything, that is a part of the growth process as well. Eventually, we each have an opportunity—more likely, many—to offer someone we care about advice, and we deliver it to them with a lovingly desperate hope that they will heed it. It is not a farfetched possibility that our loved ones impart their knowledge upon us in the same desperate fashion; if we can harness the presence of mind and foresight to see its value, it is certainly not advice to be ignored.
4. Passing smiles
So small and benign, yet so easy to initiate and return, and so rarely done. A smile can go a long way. The other day I was on the subway, and as it was about to pull away from the station, I happened to make eye contact with a girl outside the train on the platform walking by, and as if in simple acknowledgment of that eye contact and the shared humanity on either end of it, she smiled at me. It was so simple, and yet it stuck with me. Smiles are a little piece of kindness you can share with others at no expense, to let them know you see them, and sometimes all we need is to know we are seen.
5. Health issues
Often we talk about speaking things into existence, but on the other end there is this inclination toward ignoring things into nonexistence. We tell ourselves that things that seems slightly out of the ordinary will surely shift back to normality if we just leave it be. Investigating opens the door to potentially discovering something we don’t want to face. But minor issues left to fester do not always go away or even remain minor. Time is as much on our side as we force it to be—it’s not worth risking long term problems for the temporary comfort of shadowed truths. Addressing issues immediately, seeking help, and tackling problems head on will put you in an informed position to use your full potential to find a solution. And you may not even find a problem, just peace of mind.
There is this inclination toward ignoring privilege as if pretending it’s not there is somehow equalizing, when in reality, it has the opposite effect. Inequality, prejudice, institutionalized oppression, and injustices are far too deeply ingrained to be wiped away by imagination. Ignoring privilege is in fact claiming yet another privilege—it is a testimony to the disparities inherent in our society that some are able to do that and others aren’t. Different elements of each of our identities allot each of us with privilege or disadvantage—any strides toward equality require an open and all-encompassing acknowledgment of every dimension of the problem. The existence of privilege is dichotomous—to ignore privilege is to ignore oppression is to leave an already deeply problematic issue to metastasize.
7. Inconvenient truths
You know them; we all do. We hate to hear them. We find ourselves remarkably resourceful and creative in our attempts to elude accepting them; we convince and persuade and manipulate ourselves to believe something else. But we can never fully extinguish the flicker of truth in the back of our mind. It nags at us periodically, an uncomfortable presence. We take power back when we grit our teeth and possess that truth. When we strip down the frills we’ve thrown over it, we see it for what it is in all its raw discomfort. Our eyes adjust, we familiarize ourselves with the taste of that truth on our tongue. Then we have reclaimed the autonomy to determine the next steps, and we don’t waste any more energy on feeding ourselves polished lies.
We’re confined to our existence, and often consumed by it, so much so that we forget that we’re bumping shoulders and passing by people with stories and histories our mind could never dream up. On an occasion in which someone offers to share a story, there’s a chance to gain something of immeasurable value. You never know when someone’s words can unlock new avenues in your mind and send you into exciting new realms of thought.
So much of life flies by in our peripherals, never catching our attention; when we have the opportunity to see something for what it is, we afford ourselves the power to act in reaction to truth—and this is ultimately the most meaningful and empowering lens with which to view the world.