Ignorance truly is bliss.
The thought came to me as I snuggled with Neff on the sofa, watching MasterChef (his choice) and pondering the manner in which educating myself had ruined my enjoyment of cookery shows. It wasn’t even that I particularly WANTED to be vegan (having had a long and delicious love-affair with cheese, and a HUGE penchant for (yes, stereotypically English) milky tea. BUT having turned veggie because I *knew* commercial farming and butchery practices were/are atrocious (even at their best), and having developed a dairy allergy followed by disquieting revelations about the way the milk, egg, and honey industries are all as bad (in their ways) as the meat industry…in good conscience, I bit the bullet and ootzed a whole bunch of yummy convenience from my life.
Fie on me, perhaps, because going out is now a nightmare (most restaurants MAYBE have one vegan option, if you’re lucky, and it’s usually something cold with weird grains), and all holidays are diminished in their feasting capacity (perhaps not such a bad thing), though to be honest, grocery shopping is a lot quicker and cheaper because the options are so limited (I love to cook, so I continue to eat well, and there’s a plethora of delicious vegan-friendly junk food available)…BUT cooking shows? Nope. Even food adverts turn my stomach because I now know sufficient about the heritage of the milk and the meat to put me off even wanting to see them promoted due to the images and understandings which flash across my mind.
So I cuddled Neff closer and buried my chin into the soft fluff of his dressing gown and wondered about the day when his innocent enjoyment of competition cooking might be ruined by greater understanding of the processes which lead to panna cotta, roast beef or croquembouche. I decided that cookery shows were *definitely* unsuitable for vegans.
I was willfully ignorant as an omnivore, and I make no bones about it – I thought vegetarians were right to stand up for their beliefs if they chose to hang onto them so strongly, but vegans were plain bonkers. WHO in their right mind would give up cheese? Or cream? Or chocolate. And to be fair, I LOVED a good meaty dish, or fish and chips, and wanted no part in knowing the things which might make me want to not eat them. I was *definitely* averse to change.
Then I learned that for every 2lb of prawns caught, there is a 40+lb by-catch, which is thrown back and wasted. That drag-netting for prawns is an ecological disaster for our oceans. That there are places where poor farmers are encouraged to turn their arable land into prawn-pools, which salinates the ground and renders it useless for agriculture, then they are given less and less money and trapped into production and…and…and I stopped eating prawns.
After that I opened my mind a smidgen and heard things which made me baulk and decide that no amount of tastiness was worth the pain and deprivation animals are put through on their way to the table. I turned (smugly) vegetarian for my New Year’s Resolution in 2015. The dairy allergy was triggered by stress after a nasty marriage break-down mid-way through my veggie phase, I learned awful things about the dairy industry not long after that, and I turned (staunchly) vegan for my New Year’s Resolution in 2016. The more you know, sometimes the less you wish you knew.
Then I read The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hossini), and quite frankly, I want to recommend it to no-one, ever, and to everyone, ever, because this book, whilst entirely fictional, brought sharp focus to things I *knew* (or suspected) occur in real life, but would FAR prefer to remain willfully ignorant of.
I read about women and children begging on the streets of Afghanistan because war had taken all the men. I read about public executions in football fields at half-time, and spectators beaten for not cheering loudly enough as the stones struck. I read about desperate men running over-subscribed orphanages, selling children to the Taliban in order to feed the others (in the knowledge that if they did not sell one child, ten would be taken and others injured, and they would jeopardise their own life, which would render ALL the remaining orphans at greater risk). I read about once-proud cities turned to rubble and children growing up accustomed to the sound of shells and gunfire.
I read things which horrified me, which try as I might, I could not contain within a box marked “It’s just fiction” in my mind. Perhaps that was Hossini’s point. He made it very successfully, because it reminded me (in a kind of domino car-crash reaction in my brain) of the things I’ve read about acid attacks in India and Pakistan, honour killings in the UK, child soldiers in Africa, baby girls left on mountainsides in China, pedophile rings, blood diamonds, the bombings between the (widely publicised) ones in Paris and Brussels, which weren’t given any media attention in the West, because they killed people in Middle Eastern countries – NOT ones we’re ‘meant’ to have sympathy for – and I wished I could snuggle my Neff’s chin into the fluff of MY dressing gown and stop him from ever having to know all of these awful things which (in my opinion) make the world *definitely* unsuitable for humans.
It’s sickening. It makes me baulk. It makes me wish I could have remained willfully ignorant, the way I do about clothes shopping or toiletries shopping, or non-fair-trade goods, or my balled-up unrecyclable plastics ending up in landfills or choking the seas, or whether or not things are okay now in Haiti or Burma or China or Nepal, or whether those abducted Nigerian school girls have been found and returned to their homes…
The more I knew, the less I wished I knew.
Empathy is tough, though, and there’s a reason I remained willfully ignorant. There’s a reason we all do – if we tried to face up to the depth and breadth of hurt in this world (not to mention our own part in its infliction), we’d break. We’d disintegrate into little pieces and never be able to go out ever again. If we tried to take the weight of human agony on our own shoulders and dared attempt to fix it, we would be finished.
We insulate ourselves because we MUST; because each new pain revealed makes our former, comfortable, cossetted, closeted lives, untenable. Empathy demands that we acknowledge those hurts and good conscience demands that we try to make reparation – to redeem the situation. To attempt that wholesale, given the magnitude of messed-up which exists, would be madness.
There was redemption and beauty in The Kite Runner, though, and it came when the protagonist, Amir, was forced to face up to his past transgressions, whether through negligence, through weakness, or his own deliberate fault, and take ACTION to change. He gained unwanted understanding, was challenged by it, empathised, and did what he could. I discovered a quote by a chap called Prince Ea, which struck me as remarkably apt:
There is a huge difference between WANTING to change and BEING WILLING to change. Almost everyone wants to change for the better. Very few are willing to take the steps necessary to create that change. – Prince Ea
Challenging too, because I want change, I write for change – I write my little heart out, hoping to untangle my thoughts and inspire others and make sense of the messy, broken, glorious world around me – but am I willing to change? Willing to get off my ass and MAKE a difference happen? Or am I already? Am I onto something with the whole (somewhat desperate in the face of the sheer scale of tragedies I remain ignorant to every day) #LoveWins concept – the idea that connection, community, one small act of kindness and goodness and reaching out at a time, can make a difference?
Yes. Because they do.
They absolutely make a difference. Every small act, done in kindness – whether for someone you know or someone you don’t; for animals you know, or animals at large; for the oceans; for the lands; for the world – every single one, COUNTS. They have impact. They make ripples. They show each of us who does them as people striving to be better humans, which is surely our highest calling (according to Maslow) – to be the best US we can be.
No small feat, for being the best US we each can be involves hard introspection, the admission of our own failings through negligence, weakness, or our own deliberate fault, and the commitment to doing what we can, when we can, starting from where we are NOW. Because no-one could ask for more than that. Because we couldn’t possibly DO more than that, but we CAN do that. Because maybe there is nothing more beautiful than people reaching out, connecting, and making change for better. Because perhaps somehow, we are here to love ourselves, each other, and the earth; to build relationships with each and within them find redemption.
We may yet find that this world is, in fact, most wonderfully and gloriously suitable for humans.
We just have work to do.
We have to love.