Op-Ed: The importance of admitting ignorance

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 6:04pm

I am fortunate enough to surround myself with people who are generally politically motivated, left-leaning individuals. I live in a co-op filled with murals praising liberal and socialist views. I frequently visit Metal Frat, a place where it often seems difficult to visit without having a political conversation. I write for The Michigan Daily, a clearly liberal-leaning college newspaper. I’m majoring in Arts and Ideas, a major where my class conversations about art often lead to discussions about the art’s impact on the political climate during its conception. 

Through all of this, I have talked to many people who I view as being both intellectually superior to me and much more informed on the current political climate than I am. I like to pride myself on staying fairly well-informed and educated, yet I do often find myself in circumstances where I cannot keep with the conversation. Here is where I try to admit my ignorance and attempt to learn.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about when it comes to politics, it’s caring. You have to care about something. No matter what specific issues you’re passionate about, as long as you have that passion, that’s what matters. Apathy is the enemy of progress and dialogue.

I can accept disagreeing with someone, but I cannot accept them not being involved in the conversation. I have talked to several friends who try to stay out of politics. When I asked them why they don’t have opinions, the answer I hear time and time again is that they are afraid of not knowing information during a debate or conversation.

This is quite understandable. In a world where we are in constant contact with others, losing face is a scary thing. Yet however understandable it may be, it does not excuse the action. One way to help cure this phenomenon would be to normalize the admittance of ignorance.

I remember a specific moment not too long ago when rumors first started spreading that President Donald Trump was going to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I admittedly had no idea what DACA was at the time, but two of my classmates were very fired up about the issue. I think that even only a year ago, I would have kept quiet, alienating myself from these two people and fearing judgement, but this time I spoke up and inquired about DACA. This simple action made me feel part of the conversation and less intimidated from intellectual political discourse.

The only way anyone can learn about economic and social issues is if they are taught, whether that’s through academia or their peers. Knowledge does not magically appear into someone’s head. If people become less afraid of not knowing, then maybe they will become more eager to learn.

This is particularly hard on our campus here at the University of Michigan, where most of us pride ourselves on our intelligence and individuality. If someone feels that either of those things has the potential of being taken away from them, they would more likely not speak than risk the loss.

As a community, we need to make people feel more comfortable with admitting their ignorance on a topic without feeling like their intelligence is being insulted. Hopefully, this will encourage people to participate more in current political dialogue.

If there ever was a time to participate, it’s now. The current political climate almost doesn’t feel like real life at this point. Often when I read the news I have to remind myself that this isn’t a movie and we can’t just take the film out of the projector.

Trump blazed a trail of unrealistic promises and hate across the campaign trail. Now, over 200 days into his presidency, our country’s reality is worse than most of us could have even imagined. I know a lot of people who didn’t vote during the 2016 presidential election because they were still sucked into their own apathy. Now is the time to come together, to learn and to make our country a better place. We can’t do that without votes.

Decisions on every level of government affect our community, whether transparent or not. I am still very uninformed on local and state politics. I hope to learn a lot more about the lower levels of government during my junior year at the University. I hope to take that knowledge and share it with anyone that is willing to listen.

Joseph Fraley is an LSA junior and a Daily Arts writer.