The Missus recently met with a woman (I'll call her Gertie) to discuss a variety of topics. Gertie is a young, wealthy, career-minded woman with her eyes set on attaining positions of power and influence. She is a bright woman, but like all of us she has her share of knowledge gaps. Consider this conversation:
Gertie: Why did you get involved with foster care?
The Missus: These kids and their families need help. I feel like I've been called to support them.
Gertie: That's nice. I'm glad we don't have foster kids here in Whoville.
The Missus: What?
Gertie: Whoville is a wealthy community. There's no poverty here so there aren't any kids in foster care.
The Missus is more polite than I so she didn't pursue the matter further. I wouldn't have been able to let the woman's ignorance go unchecked. She was blind to at least two facts. First, there most certainly is poverty in Whoville (name changed). In fact, the poverty rate in Whoville is about 50% higher than in the state as a whole! Not to mention the fact that The Missus saw homeless people panhandling on the streets while Gertie drove her around town. Second, there are children in foster care in Whoville, just as there are in every community of reasonable size all across America. A quick Googling confirms it, not that I had any doubts.
So what's going on here? Is Gertie a fool? Not at all. What she is, simply put, is ignorant. She's ignorant of the community around her even while she's intimately familiar with complex topics in her area of expertise. She is quite literally incapable of "seeing" things like the foster care system. Maybe it's because it's not immediately relevant to her. Maybe Whoville tries to sweep its problems under the rug. Maybe Gertie deliberately refuses to come to terms with the truth. I don't know her well enough to say.
Enough picking on Gertie. The truth is that we are all guilty of ignorance about our community even as we spend our lives immersed in it. That's not inherently bad. After all, we can only focus on so many things at once. One can hardly be faulted for not understanding the ins and outs of every problem facing the residents of a city like Lincoln. Nevertheless, we oughtn't be willfully ignorant. Don't deny yourself the responsibility of learning about your community when the opportunity arises. Better yet, push yourself to find opportunities to explore your own areas of ignorance so that you may deal with them appropriately.
As The Missus told me about Gertie I first got angry that anybody could be so blind to the state of her own surroundings. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how guilty we all are of the very same thing. Certainly I am. I plan to do something about it. Lincolnites face extreme hardships. Poverty. Disability. Illness. Abuse. Neglect. Our community has internationally-renowned businesses, home-grown success stories, and fantastic centers of learning. Lincoln features beautiful, feature-filled parks and playgrounds, and dilapidated, worn-out, embarrassing parks and playgrounds. We have, in other words, a little bit of everything. I can't know everything about Lincoln, of course, and I don't plan to try. What I can do is stretch myself a little bit. Go exploring, so to speak. There's so much about Lincoln I haven't uncovered. Addressing the problem doesn't even require much of a lifestyle change. It's choosing a new restaurant rather than an old stand-by; taking a different route home; volunteering for a new organization; attending a free concert; more carefully following the evening news.
My question for you is this: What are your areas of ignorance about Lincoln, this place in which you live? And what can you do about that?