“All I know is that I don’t (want to) know” — misquote of Socrates, or possibly Operation Ivy
Before Conan O’Brien took over “The Tonight Show,” there was this guy named Jay Leno who hosted. … wait, my husband is trying to tell me something. … apparently, he says, Jay Leno is still hosting “The Tonight Show” and Conan O’Brien is … somewhere else.
Anyway, back to my point. Jay Leno had (has?) a bit on his show called “Jaywalking” where interns would go out to the streets of Los Angeles with portraits of government officials and other people who run the world. The interns show these photos to random pedestrians who hilariously can’t recognize pictures of the vice president or the secretary of state, but they can recognize a Kardashian (which, from what I understand, is a new Muppet).
The reason this Jaywalking bit is funny is because you are supposed to know who these important people are, and we, the audience, sit back in our Lazy Boys and think, “Who are these idiots who can’t tell the difference between Tina Fey and Hillary Clinton?”
Me, that’s who.
And you know what? It’s by choice.
A choice that started one day when I was driving home from work. I was getting myself worked up about an issue discussed on NPR, like people wanting to give fetuses the right to bear arms or something. (This was confusing because fetuses are usually born with arms already, but NPR explained it was about guns.Who would give a fetus a gun? I know, I agree. But in the other side’s defense, they said that fetuses could protect themselves against unwanted abortions. Pro-Baby Choicers.) My point is, listening to the fiery debate was making me upset.
And then, it hit me like a bat to the skull: I DO NOTHING. I do nothing to help these problems except know about them. I don’t contact my Congressman, Congresswoman, or Congress-others. I don’t picket, I don’t write letters. I don’t even virtually sign online petitions. I think I should. I think I might. I feel guilty for not. I hope I’ll do something tomorrow. But even though all that thinking and guilt-ing feels like I am doing A LOT, in actuality, I had to admit, I was doing nothing at all.
On that particular day, I had enough stuff in my real life to stress me out, so I couldn’t comprehend why I would add stress for no other reason than so I could feel informed.
I was in my first year as a high school math teacher, which can be pretty scary all by itself, but I was teaching at a transitional school for teens getting out of juvenile detention. This means I dealt with a group of kids who were often poor, abused, addicted and sometimes homeless. Kids who could break your heart in one second and terrify you the next. Kids who — as I realized when one of my sweet, chubby, smart students told me he was awaiting trial for armed robbery — were the faces that haunted someone else’s PTSD nightmares.
To make things worse my husband’s high-paying job — which we moved to Florida for, and on which we based our decision to buy a very expensive house — turned out to run by a con artist.
Then our car blew up.
I found out I was pregnant the fourth day of school by vomiting on the 5 a.m. drive to work. Something I would do every day for the next 11 weeks.
My mother-in-law, at age 62, was elated at the knowledge that she was finally going to become a grandmother. In order to ensure a long healthy life in which to enjoy her grandchild, she quit smoking. She died just eight days later.
In a matter of days we had gone from: double income, no kids, two cars, nice house, to: one income, kid on the way, one car, house poor and my husband, a 32-year-old orphan.
If all of this wasn’t enough to cause worry overload, six months prior, I had evilly taken a physiology class, in which I spent two weeks learning the 500,000 birth defects that are believed to be caused by maternal stress. At the time — knowing that I eventually wanted children and totally freaked out by the class — I asked my professor what advice he had for women who are thinking about having a baby. He replied, “Never take this class.”Great, now you tell me.
Never being one not to panic, I would imagine how my child’s DNA was unfolding in an acid bath of adrenaline. “This kid is growing in a rolling boil of cortisol!” I hyperventilated/screamed/cried to my husband. “Do you know what that can do to a fetus?”
Was my professor right? Was it better not to know all the possible dangers that could happen? I couldn’t unlearn the physiology, but I could choose to not know anything more. That day sitting in the car coming home from work I had an epiphany: I don’t need to know all this stuff. It is OK to not be informed.
And the truth is I don’t miss the important stuff. If it’s vital, someone tells me about it. What I do miss is all the stuff that never goes away, that stuff that never gets better and the stuff that doesn’t matter.
I felt pretty guilty about my ignorance for a long time (notice how guilt always stays, but its object changes). I couldn’t verbalize to others why I chose to be oblivious, but I knew it felt good not knowing. For a while I told myself I would go back to current events once my baby was born, but not knowing the murder report and the newest pedophile case brought a simple peace to my everyday life. I knew I was happier and less stressed. I knew it was the right thing to do. And I don’t want to go back.
There are a lot of other people out there who are passionate about politics and community, and I’m putting my country in their hands. Right now, in this part of my life, knowing is not my concern. In exchange, I am focusing on doing my job which is to raising two intelligent, kind boys who have been loved by their parents. My job is to provide a childhood with as much bliss, naivety and playfulness as possible.
Five years after that day in the car, I now feel very possessive over my emotions. I don’t want to feel sorry, or sad, or mad for people who I don’t know personally. It doesn’t help them. Those are my emotions to be used only when I need the energy to help people that I do know. I think we, as a society, feel so overwhelmed with the problems of the world that we can’t help the needy right in front of us.
So I choose not to know any details about Case E. Anthony (or whatever horrific event is currently occupying America’s interest) because my knowing about it doesn’t change what happened. And I would be proud to say I couldn’t pick Joe Biden out of a lineup, because I’ve realized that me knowing what he looks like doesn’t make him better at his job.
Knowing every issue and every danger doesn’t give us control over the world even though we want it to. Even if you read every article on the causes of accidental deaths in children from window blinds, or pools or sunflowers seeds, and even if you wrap your kids in bubble wrap when they skateboard, your son can still slip on a spoon in your kitchen right in front of you and break his leg.
For now I’m happy not being aware of current events. And if the world is going to end on Leap Day of the year 2012 like the Mayans, the Incas, or the Santa Marias predicted, then at least I’ll be blissfully unaware until it happens.
So keep me in the dark.