Recently, I posted about my visit to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. At the memorial site, there was a museum which housed a brutally honest evaluation of the causes of the genocide - that was enlightening. It also housed a large section exploring several (though not all) genocide events throughout history, including the Holocaust.
While we were leaving, I heard this from one of the other students:
"I didn't go in the Holocaust section. My mom is Jewish, so she doesn't want me to read that stuff. It's too upsetting for her. Like, I'm not allowed to read Anne Frank's Diary, or anything like that."
I couldn't even process it at the time. That statement just had so many things wrong with it, and I was already so discouraged and numb from my tour of the grounds. The statement struck me, but I put it on a back burner, knowing there was nothing I could say to enlighten the other student, and so hoping I would forget it. I didn't forget it. It's lodged there, begging to be dissected. So here we are.
Willful ignorance. Surely that must be the most egregious of sins. Except maybe, passing that ignorance down to your children, that might be worse. Or as a young adult, choosing to acquiesce to your parent's demands that you remain ignorant.
And then I thought... what is it that makes ignorance attractive?
Why not learn when given the opportunity?
It's not something I can grasp. Intentional ignorance is, essentially, intentional weakness. Who does that?!
That student's mother, apparently. And, it seems to be heritable, like any other cultural disease. I have hope that someday, that student will be curious about the lessons history has to teach about humanity, and about her own family.
I don't know how useful this analogy will turn out to be, but I'm go with it anyway.
I've read quite a bit about Lorelei since first hearing of her [from another blogger, cited below], but I keep going back to that first blog, and something she said: "So great is her beauty, and so sweet is her song, that sailors are distracted from their vigilance in the dangerous waters and are drowned."
Ignorance, I think, is like Lorelei's song. It's sweet and beautiful to those who hear it, but it is embraced only at great risk, because it masks the dangers around us. It would be so easy to just shut out the things we don't want to hear, in favor of those that sound sweet to us. But reality isn't sweet, it's dangerous. When we close our eyes to those dangers, we risk our lives both literally and metaphorically. Beauty is only skin deep. At times, it hides greater beauty. But at times, it also hides a path to destruction. The key to knowing the difference, is learning.
Perhaps that's the attraction. Perhaps some people just choose ignorance because it's easier than facing reality. I will admit to having done that, at certain low points in my life.
I pray I don't pass that behavior to my child. I pray that I can hold myself to a higher standard.
Credit where due: I began my readings about Lorelei here, the blog of Laurelei Black, back in June. The quote is from that same blog post. She also linked to this site, which hosts a collection of Lorelei poems and lyrics.