How to avoid the trap of ignorance

To the Editor:

A few weeks ago, while being interviewed by Melissa Hale-Spencer, I was asked how I remain calm and empathetic when speaking on my experiences with racism and the facts about racist policies and practices [“Cici Ferrara: A young voice of calm on race”].

I have put a lot of thought into this, and realized that much of what is perceived as a calm demeanor is actually the product of the process I use to understand, review, and accept new facts into my adjusted worldview. In this process, I use strategies and skills I learned in high school, university, and historical research to ensure that I am only accepting factual and unbiased information.

I thought it might be helpful to share this with others:

— Step 1: When confronted with information that conflicts with your current worldview, do not automatically dismiss it, even if it causes an emotional reaction within yourself. Being offended or uncomfortable is no reason to refuse truths;

— Step 2: Ask clarifying questions. If a concept does not make sense to you, start a dialogue, and do not stop until you have enough information to work with. Remember, the point of asking these questions is not to “beat” the other person. You are looking to understand, not to win;

— Step 3: Ask or search for sources of information. Again, you are not trying to beat the other person. This is your quest for knowledge, and conversations are not battles;

— Step 4: Investigate the new information. Look at the sources. Research found in academic journals is peer reviewed in order to eliminate bias, so that information (unless it is extremely outdated) is trustworthy. News sources such as NPR and BBC are less biased than news sources like Fox News and The New York Post;

— Step 5: Investigate more. Move outside the information given to you during your conversations. Articles often reference other articles. Academic and scientific journals will list sources, often with links or codes you can search. It is better to read these papers for yourself instead of reading or listening to someone else paraphrasing, as you don’t want to rely on a secondary interpretation of the data. That is where you could unknowingly be misled by someone else’s bias. This happens a lot with shady news sources, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts;

— Step 6: Speaking of social media, be aware that many memes and posts are propaganda or jokes. Never share an informational post without first using the above steps to determine if it is factual. Misinformation is everywhere online, and it is incredibly easy to participate in the spread of it. Social media has been used to manipulate entire populations. Do not allow yourself to be in those groups;

— Step 7: Find healthy ways to cope with the discomfort caused by the awareness of being misled. No one likes to be wrong, especially if they were passionate about their prior beliefs. Learning the truth can lead to feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt. This is why people avoid challenging their worldview. Do these newly learned truths challenge any of your established beliefs? Explore that, and accept that growth is necessary for a meaningful life, and that negative feelings towards new knowledge are obstacles to be overcome, not barriers to understanding;

— Step 8: Share your new understanding with others. Humans invented language so that we could more effectively communicate important information. Use it. When you see someone repeating the same misconceptions you used to hold, present the facts. You grew from where they are now, and they should get a chance to grow, too;

— Step 9: Repeat. We will always be wrong about something, and there will always be room for improvement. Our lives are not meant to be static, nor are our beliefs. Our knowledge of ourselves, our planet, and our universe changes every day. Will you choose the path of growth? Or will you choose to remain a relic of a bygone era of understanding?

CiCi Ferrara

Former resident

of Knox

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