Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Is It About Ignorance in Others That Bugs Us?

Listening to someone speak of their troubles relating to a coworker the other night, specifically with the coworker's intractable ignorant bigotry, got me wondering what it is that prevents us from just accepting these "flaws" in others.

First of all we have to realize that there is a reason they feel the way they do and why it's different than how we feel.  The events of their lives have resulted in circumstances that have led them to believe what they do.  From their perspective we're the ones with flawed views.  Accepting this, is it really fair to say they're "wrong"?  All that we try to cultivate in ourselves as Buddhists says no.  After all, we're full of ignorance ourselves.

I think it's that we see another's opinion and we see difference, a difference that we don't like.  We see it as separate from ourselves and it's just the fact that something is apart from ourselves that we find fundamentally upsetting; the content of that difference doesn't matter.  When our efforts to make our opinions theirs fails, we get frustrated.

But it's just one person, what's the big deal?  Surely other people see how ignorant their views are, right?  Well, those views came from somewhere and usually it's from another person.  It's this contagious nature of hurtful ideas that lies at the root of our need to correct the problem and we try so urgently to correct the problem at its source.  We don't want that which is different to spread, further isolating ourselves from the universe around us.

What we have to remember is that people who hold strong opinions hold them strongly, they're not open to new ideas.  We end up hitting an immovable object with our preaching/educating, furthering the antagonistic nature of the relationship.

It's not that they're a lost cause, but it's in those around both of you that you stand the greatest chance of making an impact.  But preaching is often met with resistance, even if those that hear are likely to agree with the ideals being spoken of.  Words are not only easy to ignore, they're also easy to fake and there are plenty of examples of people preaching but not practicing.

So forget the preaching, we can only change ourselves and be a good example.  The message of Buddhism is not to spread Buddhism, but to realize our own true potential.

By doing our best to do this, by being accepting of others, taking responsibility for our own actions, and living in the moment, others may see us as positive role models.

What this all really boils down to is accepting the choices of others, knowing that we can only control ourselves.  We can't force anyone to change their minds, but by being good people they may take our examples.  Without uttering a singe word to try to convince them, we lead by example.  In this way we are able to fulfill our vow to save all beings.

This doesn't only apply to Buddhists, but to not only anyone practicing any faith based on love, but also those who hold no faith at all. 

When you try to force something on someone, or even just convince them of something, you give them something to resist.  Keep this in mind.


  1. This was a a great post, Kevin.

    This is what I was trying for in both my post on Posterous and Houston Belief.


  2. opinions are like assholes. everybody's got one and everybody thinks the other guy's stinks.

  3. I find that I set very unfair standards when it comes to critiquing other people.

    I'm very slow and am the most churlish of all churls, taking forever to understand right from wrong and what causes happiness and unhappiness. Then I turn around and expect other people around me to understand these concepts within minutes, these same concepts which have taken me years to slavishly work on with little progress lol

  4. It's easy to forget how far we've come. I've often felt a good way of seeing it as looking back down the mountain, seeing how easy the path down looks. When looking back up, we see how much further we have to go and how far we've come looks like nothing.