Coming out of ignorance

I wince a lot when I remember all of the stupid things I once said. Oftentimes this reaction is sparked by a new conversation on a topic of which I was previously ill-informed or unaware. Mid-conversation, I remember an ignorant statement I said, silly naive musings uttered, or some other form of the like. I cringe. I crumple a little inside. I want to run away from that person. How stupid I was. How the other person on the other end of that conversation, who was more informed and knowledgeable than I, must have felt, what they must have thought in that moment. These are the thoughts that play on repeat. A feedback loop of increasing entropy, gaining weight and speed as it goes, carrying me down with it.

Of course, I can rationalize in these moments. I can say things like, “We are all growing. This is a part of the process. No one can be expected to know everything all at once. Perfection is toxic. And a society that stifles kind dialogue and discourse is part of the problem. This is simply a part of life. Questioning and developing is a sign of positive forward motion.” And yet, these thoughts are perched on a lofty place above the feelings that linger on, churning in my gut. How to reconcile the two?

While time softens the feelings of shame and embarrassment, the truth is that maybe I don’t need to reconcile anything. The facts are there. I once knew less, and now I know more, or at least see things differently. And that’s it. That’s the way it is. Maybe everything doesn’t need to be tidied up in a neat package, digestible and sweet so I can fit my life into a seamless narrative. So that my images of myself remain patina’d, with only just-the-right amount of imperfections. A scratch here, some yellowing there, but overall, complete and fully formed.

The truth is not everything needs to be “settled” so I can move on with my life, and indeed most things rarely are. I have no choice but to keep moving anyway. And instead of searching for a way to perfect my former self, I want to remind myself that those gut-churning feelings can serve a greater purpose. They can be the tools to help me keep digging further. To never rest too much on what I think I know. To maybe shed more of my oh-so-keenly American roots of close-minded and often one-sided conversation, and release myself to the possibilities of difference, that are just that; difference, not right and wrong. Not bad, stupid, former Elizabeth, but a person who is growing and becoming more aware through time and experience.

What I’m saying is that maybe I can see these cringing feelings as a natural response that serve an important social function, for me individually, and for society as a whole. If we let ourselves feel them and do our best not to let them chip away at us or to wallow in the shame we often attach to them, they can be useful. A way for us to remember that truth comes in many forms, and that we are always emerging from layer upon layer of our own ignorance.

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What is your experience with these emotions? Have you felt these cringing feelings too? Tell me about it in the comments.

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