Most discoveries I made about sex initially were from my friends. They weren’t necessarily qualified to teach me about such things, but at that time, they were the only ones talking about it. “Do you know about…,” they would tease, “No, you probably don’t.” The journey through the teenage years is one of ignorance and discovery. As a teenager, I thought I knew everything because I was discovering something new every day. At times, I felt like I had been deprived of all things interesting or useful, then a friend would introduce me to something I could have never imagined. Thinking my parents were ignorant helped me be smug for a time, until my ignorance could be revealed the following day on another topic, usually in front of a bunch of people. That’s just how it works when you’re a teenager!
All of us are unaware of some things. I often avoid talking about racial and LGBTQ issues. I believe I have made great strides in these areas recently, but just like my teenage years, I worry that I am ignorant in comparison to others and that this fact will be revealed shortly. Ignorance may have a negative connotation in American culture, but it is very simply means only that we are unaware. In junior high, It would have been so much better to admit that I wasn’t aware of some things instead of pretending to know and shaming myself even more.
Hopefully, each of us are making discoveries every day. A few days ago, I was able to discover some deep things about myself through some spiritual direction. I love when this happens even though I often resist the hard work required to make these discoveries. I could have gone to the library to learn about sexual things, but I longed for someone to just hand me the information. The interesting part of making discoveries and understanding new things is that it changes our relationship to those that are ignorant (unaware) of what we now know. We now know or practice something they may not understand yet. And, like a teenager, we tease them because we want them to acknowledge our newfound understanding, but we don’t know how to explain these things well and often they are not interested anyway.
I have noticed that the best way to get a conversation started on social media is to be provocative. Unfortunately, it is also the best way to start a fight. It takes a lot of tact and patience to carefully select words to navigate a social media discussion. I admire those that can keep their cool and ask questions instead of being accusatory. It is very easy to return to the playground of our youth and begin demeaning and shaming each other. It is especially difficult when we are dealing with core beliefs. As we replace our ignorance with knowledge and, hopefully wisdom, we establish beliefs and dogmas that we prefer people don’t question. Frantz Fanon, said it this way:
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
George Burns, the comedian and actor, had a hit song late in life entitled I Wish I Was 18 Again. I have mixed emotions about this type of thought process. While there are some things I would like to do over, I don’t think I would want to endure the trauma of being a teenager again. But occasionally I daydream about what it would be like to experience those awkward years with the knowledge I have now. What if when I was confronted with something I didn’t know, I would simply respond with something reasonable like, “No, I don’t know anything about that – please enlighten me!” Then I could employ the Socratic method to go deeper without starting a huge fight or embarrassing myself! Wouldn’t that be great—wait, couldn’t I apply that to my social media “discussions?”
I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. I’m aware (less ignorant) of so many things because I have the internet and social media as resources. I have developed some fabulous relationships online and, of course, made some enemies. I love the fact that my family of origin congregated twice last month online when we had not all been together physically in over 10 years. I love that I could bring together four or five psychological experts to talk about the current crisis and then share that conversation with the world. I love that much of the world’s knowledge is now at our fingertips. The downside? Not everyone has all the same information or access to it at the same time.
I still don’t care to talk about sex but it’s not because it’s uncomfortable, it’s because it is not an issue I’m wrestling with. But there are some things that I want to talk about and regardless of what some say, I think we can have some good discussion online. But just like the schoolyard, it’s not going to be easy and we are going to have to be open and teachable if we’re going to access this great opportunity that is before us.
Online communities and social media cut down the miles and some of the walls that are between us. It doesn’t come without its challenges, but neither does a discussion in a hometown coffee shop. Ignorance is not limited to a place or a platform. Unawareness is common to all of us, but it’s possible to navigate this challenge if we purpose to do so. Like all of us grew up and became adults, we can also become better at the conversations that are necessary.
During the pandemic, we came to understand that sometimes our lives depend on having quality conversations. But all conversations are not life or death, and maybe that’s the hidden truth in all of this. Maybe, we gain the most by understanding that we’re not going to die if we don’t prove our point and it’s not the end of the world if someone called me a name. Even though we long for honest, genuine dialog, it’s probably always going to be a challenge, but I believe it’ still worth the effort.
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and the soon-to-be released Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary and Too Many Podcasters podcasts. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!