Lately I’ve been discovering just how unfamiliar I am with so many things around me. This unfamiliarity is actually ignorance on my part. It isn’t that I’m unintelligent. I’m just… well; it’s just that I don’t know everything. I know what I know, but I’m sure that that isn’t all that much.
For example, in my post, The Freedom To Soar , a couple of days ago, I wrote about some small birds I had seen while sitting on the outside patio of an Internet cafe. I see this type of bird almost daily. They’re fairly common – extremely common, in fact. Yet, I never knew what type of bird they were. I was ignorant of what species they belonged to. It turns out that they were sparrows.
One of the definitions given for the word "ignorance" is,
The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.
Here is another example of my own personal ignorance…
Today, while I was out and about, I stopped at a small shopping center to buy a couple of things.
Like most shopping centers, this one had its landscaping: trees, grass, and flower beds with a diversity of different flowers. The flowers seemed to be arranged in groupings: with similar types of flowers all planted together.
There was one flower that caught my attention. A small yellow flower, with a brownish center, which was actually quite beautiful. I was about to try and guess what type of flower they were, but I know as much about flowers as I know about birds which – again isn’t all that much. So, I let it be. I was content to just look at them.
But then I noticed that there were two of these yellow flowers growing by themselves, apart from the rest of the group as it were. They had somehow taken root in a different part of the flower bed. The distance between them and the rest of the grouping was about five or six feet.
As silly as this may seem, when I saw this I thought to myself, "Well, at least they won’t be lonely. They have each other for companionship."
Another thought occurred to me as well: these two flowers weren’t far enough away from the rest of the grouping as to be completely isolated, but neither were they actually a part of the "group." There were on the periphery of their "community."
When I left the shopping center I was experiencing a deep sense of melancholy. I couldn’t get the thought of those two lone flowers out of my mind. Their proximity to the rest of their fellow flowers made it easy to identify them as they same species. Yet, it was as though they didn’t belong. In fact, I realized that they didn’t belong where they were. They were meant to be with the rest of the group.
In communities all across this nation, there are people who are homeless and very much like those two flowers: they exist on the fringes of society.
Some of them have deliberately chosen to isolate themselves from rest of their communities. For the most part however, the homeless are forced to live socially cut off from their fellow citizens because of ignorance. That ignorance, in turn, has given birth to misconceptions and prejudices regarding homelessness.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the homeless don’t have a "cute and cuddly" appearance.
We’ve become so superficial about what is and what isn’t attractive, that we have a tendency to base most of how we perceive others solely on their physical appearance. And, when the "outside" doesn’t look all that appealing, we mistakenly assume that the "inside" must not be all that much better.
Once when I was a pre-teen, I was infatuated with one of the girls who lived on my block. She was physically attractive, so I was under the impression that she must be a nice person. Then one day I overheard her saying something vindictive and mean spirited to one of the other kids. I was crushed. I couldn’t believe that she could be so mean.
That evening, while we were having dinner, everyone could see that something was bothering me. When I was asked what was wrong, I shared what I had witnessed.
To this day I can still remember what I was told:
"A pretty face can often times hide a wicked heart."
It was just another way of telling me not to judge a book by its cover, but it was an effective lesson. And, another wall of ignorance was brought down.
Just because our nation’s homeless aren’t able to make the top ten best dressed list, shouldn’t cause us to assume that they are unwholesome.
To be sure, there are those homeless who fit the stereotypes. But there are so many who do not. And when we base our opinions of the homeless on visual cues alone, we’re cheating them – but more importantly, we’re cheating ourselves by perpetuating our own ignorance.
The great thing about ignorance though, is that we have the ability to overcome it. All it takes is a willingness to find out the truth. We just have to be willing to admit that we might not know as much as we think we do.
Those two flowers in that flower bed may have standing apart from the rest of the group, but that didn’t make them any less beautiful.