Ignorance is Not Innocent

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People’s minds are complicated. It’s very hard to fully understand what’s going on inside, because there are so many different layers in each of our mind. We even hardly understand correctly about our own mind. It requires so much care and effort to check your thoughts and behaviors to see if there are contradictions. It’s very easy to be blind about yourself. Sometimes we even end up doing something that actually contradicts to what we honestly believe or want. To be honest, I’m not confident if I’m always living congruently.

I think most people believe they’re good person. I assume there are not so many people who think they are bad people, or who are trying to be bad people. However ironically, believing you are a good person can be one of the biggest reasons why we sometimes hurt somebody without noticing. Sometimes we could hurt someone very deeply, even when we don’t mean to.

Even though I think I always try to avoid hurting other people unnecessarily, there is always a possibility that I’m being blind about my thoughts, words, or actions, and as the result, I am actually hurting someone. Chances are, the more you believe that you’re being careful, the more likely you misjudge yourself. It’s always possible that I hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it. Recently, I strongly feel the importance of doubting myself in this way.

The other day, on Instagram, I saw a photo of a sign from Black Lives Matter protests, and that hit my heart.

“Treat racism like Covid-19.

  1. Assume you have it.
  2. Listen to experts about it.
  3. Don’t spread it.
  4. Be willing to change your life to end it.”

I thought this is well said and is easy for anyone to understand.

Not limited to racism, sadly, there are still a lot of people who are judging other people while they are not even realizing that they are judging. Or, probably, I should say that we all can be more or less judgmental on other people, even if we don’t want to be, or even when we are being very careful not to be. (Just to clarify, I am writing about below examples but that does not mean that I think they are any equivalent to what black people are suffering from. I am writing this to point out the possibility that we all – including myself – can treat other people unfairly and hurt them, even when we don’t realize that we are doing.)

Sometimes, even in very casual conversations, I find surprising contradictions people secretly have, probably as a result of their ignorance.

Earlier this year, when coronavirus was still new, we heard a lot about Asian people being treated unfairly in Western countries. One day when I was talking with a Japanese person, this topic randomly came up into our conversation. We were talking about Japanese people being yelled at “Go back to your country!” by a complete stranger in the street. That person I was talking to seemed really sad and upset, and said, “That’s horrible. They don’t deserve to be treated like that!”

However, when I was talking with the exact same person about foreign people living in Japan, they said, “I think they are dangerous.” “They might be doing something bad or illegal.” “I’m scared of them.” Yes, the same person who were sad and upset about Japanese people being attacked in overseas.

The other person said, “I’m learning English!” “I’m in love with European cultures.” “I love traveling.” with a big smile and excitement. However, later when we were talking about Chinese travelers in Japan, the same person started saying, “Ugh, Chinese…” “I don’t wanna go to that area because there’re always full of Chinese tourists.” with hatred, looking disgusted.

Also, there are quite a few people like this in business; They never mention about gender of someone when they are working with male, although they ALWAYS mention – even though nobody is asking – about gender, when they are working with female. “Is it so rare for you to work with female?” I always want to ask them every time I hear that. “I’m here, working in front of you, with you, almost every day, but is it still not normal for you to work with women?”

When someone is working with a company from other countries and some trouble occurred, they often says “Of course it happens, they are stupid.” “Ugh, people from that country is always a trouble”. I know intercultural business can be very tough and stressful sometimes, but I can’t stand people who always blame people from other countries no matter what, even when the cause of the trouble is mutual.

In Japan it seems like there are some people who never left this country since they were born here, and never have a proper chance to meet any non-Asian people in real life. When the chance finally comes to them and they see non-Asian people for the first time in their entire life, some of them can’t help saying “Wow” “They look scary…” or staring at them without hesitation.

Every time I see these things happen, I feel the urge to say something to wake them up – but I often end up saying nothing. Sometimes I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I’m just a coward. Sometimes I just miss the timing.

Asian women is definitely not the most privileged identity. Living in Japan, I have experienced being told things that men would never have to bear with. When I traveled to Western countries, I experienced being treated differently from how they treat Westerners.

Even so, if I talk only about myself, I’m not suffering badly from racism or sexism, in my day to day life. I am relatively highly privileged. There are other Asian women who are suffering from different things at different levels and I can’t speak to them. Also, even among Japanese women living in Japan, I think I’m relatively privileged.

Once I realized about that, I started to feel that there must be something I have to do as a privileged person. Yes, I can be a victim sometimes, but there are also a lot of other problems in this world other people are suffering, but not me. And for people who are suffering, there must be things I can do for them, because I am not suffering from the problem. I might be out of the conversation, but that doesn’t mean I can stay out of it. I started to feel like it should be someone like me – not the victims, but the people who are not suffering from the matter – to raise voices and take actions to fix something, when there is a problem.

When I noticed contradictory feelings, logics, and beliefs comes from ignorance, existing inside people’s minds, I always used to be silent. I couldn’t confront and say something to them. Honestly, giving up about them seemed the best way to deal with them. However, in such situations, what I really should do is not leaving without saying anything, ignoring them, accusing them, or to start a fight with them, but to lead and guide them to the right direction, as a friend who cares about them.

Since I’m not the victim, I can possibly take the unpleasant part of confronting the ignorance, which is for example, patiently listening to them. Since what they say or how they act does not directly hurt myself, instead of quickly shutting them up, I can possibly give them time to say what they have to say, and to explain themselves. Then I can start talking with them -instead of just me pointing out “you’re wrong!” – carefully, kindly, and patiently, to lead them to the point they can realize that they were misunderstanding something by themselves. People don’t like being pointed out what they are doing wrong by someone else. Instead, it can be easier to accept and take it seriously, when they find our about their mistakes by themselves.

Of course I don’t like hearing someone talking smack about someone else, even if it’s not about me. Mean comments or actions can make me feel down whether it’s about me or not. That made me thinking, “what would the victims feel when they hear unfair comments about them?” There is no reason they have to get hurt, or to feel disappointed, frustrated, or sad even more than they already do. That is the reason why I think it’s the responsibility of people with privilege, to be someone who turns the enemies to allies, even if it takes a long time.

I want to become someone who can speak kind words.
I want the ability to make someone realize something, with kindness.
I want the skill to give a good influence on someone, to make them and even people around them happier.
These are my new goals added to my long list of goals.

When people get critisized or accused severely, they tend to panick and can’t do anything but focusing on protecting themselves. That leads them to completely deny or ignore what they are being told. Also, when you make a mistake, what would you feel if someone yell at you without telling you what was wrong and why it is wrong? You won’t like it, because you can’t understand the reason, or what you can do in the future. That kind of communication is never constructive.

Instead of just saying “You are wrong!” or “You shouldn’t say that!”, maybe I can listen – even if what they tell me is completely unacceptable to me – and with time, love, and patience, I can possibly have conversations with them, to make them realize and accept their mistakes. And in order to do that, instead of treating them as enemies, I should always be their friends. People still can be friends even when they have different opinions or conflicts between each other. And because we are friends, we can talk, and grow together into better people.

In many situations, I couldn’t say anything when I should or could have. Sometimes I didn’t want to look like a “too sensitive” or “difficult” person. In other times, I was too disappointed, or I was thinking that is not my business because I am not the person they are targeting. But none of them can be a reason, but they are just excuses. The fact that I can ignore and forget about their comments or actions are the privilege I have. And that gives me the responsibility as a person in that position.

It requires courage, patience, knowledge, abilities and skills, to have a meaningful conversation with someone who have completely opposite opinions from mine. Am I capable to do that? Well, to be honest, I’m not confident at all. And since I wasn’t confident, I used to avoid the situation and have been protecting me. Yes, protecting me, not people who are actually suffering.

But as long as I keep doing that, nothing will change.

Not to accuse someone, not to hurt someone, not to offend someone – but to grow into better people together as friends, I want to start doing what I can do, little by little.

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