— David Foster Wallace
We all have a friend who posts stuff on social media that we hate to look at, for whatever reason we hate to look at them. The offender is usually posting some wildly uninformed, misguided thing that is so offensive in its unwillingness to consider the other side that it is wholeheartedly disappointing. It makes you sad that you know that offender, that person who’s perfectly nice in day-to-day life. The person you can’t reason with because they only put their awful reasoning online.
You know the ones I’m talking about. You know that kind of unchecked ignorance when you see it. And we all want it to stop, don’t we?
But we don’t say anything about it. We don’t comment because we don’t want to make waves, to get into a stupid public fight that will likely lead to no resolution, and we can’t delete them as a friend for the same reason, or maybe we don’t delete them for an even more necessary evil: they’re co-workers, they’re married to our best friends, they’re family.
But regardless of who they are, they’re wrong, right?
If you called them out on their wrongness, what would they say? You think about it. You mull over what their defense would be. If you really think about it, you can usually land on the one tired platitude that they’d likely use, the thing reality stars use to justify their shit-starting positions, the thing your ex said when they were being purposefully hurtful, the worst fall back of all:
“I’m just being honest.”
Those four words can be so infuriating, they can make you want to rip your hair out at what a ridiculously basic excuse they’ve become. Honesty has become the default setting for relying on what you already believe to be true. It’s become a term used to describe the unexamined mindset, the regurgitation of beliefs, of easy explanations, of convenient, ignorant, easy-to-swallow, fake honesty that dulls the edge of the real, cutthroat truths that we need to be able to make cultural progress—the kind that leaves some of us bleeding, that lets the wound finally breathe so it can heal.
Would it be so bad if those of us who have been privileged enough to not have suffered in the past could suffer the truth now? I find myself looking at those ignorant statuses that boast things like, “we’re all equal, not everything is about race, all lives matter,” and wondering exactly how it would hurt those people to admit that, throughout our nation’s history, all lives haven’t mattered as much as other lives have. How exactly would it hurt those people—the ones posting the ignorant stuff, the easy default setting people—to admit that they might only think things are equal because they’ve never tried to see or talk about how things are not equal?
You might be one of those people who recycle the easy ignorance, the things you’ve been taught were true, the ones that are easy for you to see. You might be “wrong.” Right?
But it is any easy truth for me, to say “these people are wrong,” to put them in a box where I can store them away. To never interact with them, to never make waves. To default to the idea that they are “wrong” and therefore not worth being dealt with, not worth the energy. To let them go unchecked. Because these ignorant people—the ones who out themselves as ignorant online in blatant ways—they are hard to talk to, they are hard to even talk about.
Ignorant people are obvious, important realities that we must face. Somehow. I don’t have an answer as to how exactly anyone can deal with them and stay sane, to not rip your hair out and throw your hands up saying, “how can you think that way?” because you cannot fathom it. I don’t think you should have to, I don’t think you do have to. Dealing with them will always be saddening. It will always be difficult. But we have some kind of responsibility—not to educate grown adults, not to make everyone think the way we do—to say something. Whether it be directly to them or on our own public platform, where they might see it, and attempt to write their own response, and in writing it—maybe, just maybe—they will ask themselves, as we should too: “Am I being honest? Or am I being ignorant?”