Ignorance versus innocence

Ignorance versus innocence

Luke 16:19-31. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus

It’s very convenient to turn a blind eye to the suffering around us. Our temporary comfort can feel like a distraction from those who need us, and in this sense, indeed, ignorance is bliss.

Do ignorance and innocence mean the same thing? When we utter “ignore”, there seems to be an active act compared with the term “innocent”. Ignoring means actively not paying attention to something; while innocence is more of a state where a person or a child is not yet familiar with certain information about the world.

The ignorant deliberately chooses to avoid thinking, feeling, and paying attention. Can we say the same thing about an innocent child?

The innocent child, in my experience, is very curious and inquisitive. The child instinctively knows that he knows little, so he incessantly asks anything, without any preconceived notion about “political correctness” or “acceptable norms”.

This is not the same with the ignorant, who chooses to actively ignore; to prioritize convenience over the dilemma of knowing that another person may be burdened, and ignoring the possibility that we could help the needy.

I think that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not about condemning the rich man for having material goods. Rather, the parable is about willful ignorance, treating material things as a distraction or excuse not to pay attention to the others. The rich man may be thinking, “I am comfortable, why should I bother?” This can be interpreted in an ego-centric manner, because if the rich man thought about others beyond himself, he may be compelled to conclude that he needs to help the marginalized like Lazarus was.

This parable is very appropriate for business leaders and educators. Are we willfully ignoring externalities, choosing a convenient lens where a business only seeks to maximize its profits? We cannot claim innocence anymore, given the history of businesses and even other types of organizations becoming a cog in the systemic approach to corruption.

Living an authentic good life is not without discomfort, because we are compelled to pay attention not only to our experiences, but to the experiences of others. It’s troubling and uncomfortable to be knowledgeable, powerful, and wise, because we abandon our claims of innocence. But isn’t this what vocations are about? We are called to think and feel beyond ourselves, while finding our niche in a flawed society we desire to flourish.

As children, we’re innocent and curious. As adults, we should be insightful and authentic.

Not ignorant.


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