By Julie Geng, VI Form
Confession of My (Our) Ignorance: A Chapel Talk
If there is one thing that I improved significantly over my senior year, it must be procrastination. When I received the chapel talk invitation from Rev. Talcott over the summer, I immediately signed up, and I picked sometime in April. I had the delusion that senior spring would give me more time to carry out some soul-searching. Uh, no.
I chose the date April the 7th to procrastinate, and I thought it was a brilliant idea, really. I could not imagine how my courageous classmates managed to craft amazingly inspiring chapel speeches during the college process. Again, I was wrong. Many topics that I wanted to talk about have already been extensively and successfully touched upon. I wanted to talk about my experience in a chemistry lab, but it would not be nearly as exciting as Liz Swain’s baby-delivering internship. I wanted to talk about my Chinese names (yes, there are two of them), but mine are not nearly as interesting as Winnie Yan’s “little buddha.” I wanted to talk about mindful eating and mental illness, but my words and story would not be nearly as compelling and powerful as Matt Flather’s or Jess Hutchinson’s.
Alas, I decided to be a copycat of Mr. Hebert, and I am going to give a confession. My confession is: I am ignorant. Wait for it…there will be a twist.
By “ignorant,” I do not mean “foolish.” By “ignorant,” I mean “lacking knowledge or awareness.” I used to be ignorant. More precisely, I did not know what I did not know. Well, according to the opening sentence, I guess I was a fool. I was ignorant of many social justice issues. I assumed that racism is always in the past tense. I was not aware of gender equality; I assumed that women being submissive to men was a working mechanism. I was not exposed to any LGBT people before. When my roommate at summer school two years ago told me that her boyfriend was a transgender lesbian, I could not wrap my head around it at all. I have unintentionally hurt people in the past due to my cultural shocks. When I later learned more about gender and sexuality through the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and my Gender and Society class, I was no longer in contact with my roommate to apologize for my unwittingly offensive remarks.
The biggest assumption that I have made thus far is that everybody is able to excel as long as he/she works hard enough. I remember when I volunteered at the soup kitchen, Our Father’s Table, for the first time; I came back asking Candice Wang whether the people who were receiving help really deserved it. Could they have earned their own living if they just worked harder? My parents worked their way out of a village in China, and I worked my way to this country as an international student. I thought I understood what privilege means, and I assumed that privilege does not matter if you put in enough effort. If anything has changed fundamentally over the past four years, it must be that St. Mark’s has helped me become more aware. When I went to Haiti this past January, I realized what a horrendous mistake I have made. The Haiti trip was five precious days in my busy life that enabled me to slow down and reflect. It was a window through which I could observe the under resourced world. We were given the time to experience, to be touched, and to ponder. In this fast-paced era, we are trained to categorize, to judge, and to move onto the next thing. I was privileged to be challenged to re-examine my worldview. There are many kids in Latournelle as well as in other parts of the world who are eager to learn but simply do not have the resources and opportunities. In this country where white privilege has always been emphasized, I hardly recognize my own privilege. My parents did work hard, but they also had a functioning education system that helped them move up the ladder. I worked hard, but I also have supportive parents, peers, and teachers who are fortunately able to fuel my “American dream.”
I realize that in any form of prejudice and discrimination, the cause can often be ignorance. Sometimes biases are not even conscious. However, our self-serving biases convince ourselves that we are unbiased. On the other hand, we tend to attribute others’ situational ignorance to their malicious characters and dispositions. We say so much without realizing if our ignorance is hurting someone else. We make judgement or take offense so easily that we forget the power of forgiveness and empathy. If one side attempts to be educated instead of staying ignorant and the other side attempts to educate instead of assigning blame, the problem may become clear.
This confession is not just about me. We are all ignorant to a certain extent. We don’t even know what we don’t know sometimes. Even the scientific community is ignorant. I once watched “The Animated Tour of the Invisible” by John Lloyd. Gravity. The stars in the sky. Thoughts. The human genome. Time. Atoms. So much of what really matters in the world is impossible to see. We cannot understand things that we cannot see. Take gravity for example, it is the least understood and the weakest of all the fundamental forces. No one really knows what it is and why it is there.
Humans boast that we are the most intelligent beings in the world, but we are still immensely ignorant. We cannot even answer the fundamental question about our existence: We are going to be dead within 100 years and forgotten within 200. Why do we even exist? What is the point of life? I have been confronted by this question many many times thanks to Rev. Talcott. Many people answer me: “The point of life is to make changes to the world.” That is a grand goal, and I would definitely tell you to go for it. However, not everyone of us is able to change the world. Moreover, when we are eager to make a certain change to the world, we might be missing out many more. I think there is a more essential goal – which is awareness. Awareness of our individuality. Awareness beyond our minuscule self. Awareness that we are ignorant. Awareness that others are, too. Like St. Augustine said, none of us knows the Truth. Therefore, on our shared journey towards the Truth, we ought to help, educate, and most importantly forgive one another.
Yes, I have been procrastinating and slowing down my senior year, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. I finally had the time to think beyond my unimportant self – my grades, college, friend dramas, seated meal. . .
Our lives are too short to be squandered on the cynical high-mindedness that society has instilled in us. Our lives are way too long to be spent focusing on our infinitesimal self and ignoring our ignorance.
Julie Geng is a VI Former from Shanghai, China. She is obsessed with chemistry, and her favorite class at St. Mark’s is Death of God.