Is ignorance really bliss?

When we were in Rome, we were fortunate enough to have a tour guide as entertaining as Olga. She would answer all questions truthfully and would give us both “politically correct” and “politically incorrect” answers. I truly appreciated her honesty. At one point, Davis asked a question regarding her view on Americans and American Politics. She responded saying that Italians do not particularly like American politics which did not surprise me at all. What did surprise me, though, is what she said about the American people. She said that she enjoyed working with Americans because they are organized and on time. She expanded on this point by saying that Americans are the only people that still “smile at the world” and that we were the only people that are still happy. She claimed that this happiness stems from ignorance about the world around us. In other words, she meant that Americans embody the idiom “ignorance is bliss.”

At first, I thought that what she had said had been a positive comment, but after reflection, I realized that, in general, ignorance cannot be positive. Also, after further reflection, I decided that I do not necessarily believe that the general American population is particularly ignorant, but is instead removed from most of the horrible acts that have happened in other parts of the world. I feel that a great number of Americans possess a willful ignorance, stemming from a basic lack of empathy for those suffering from humanity’s greatest atrocities. Wars are not fought in California; children in New York are not collateral damage in politically motivated bombings; Christians are not violently targeted for their practicing their faith in Texas. As a result, we tend to adopt a sense that these horrors “can’t happen here,” effectively distancing ourselves emotionally from the plight of other nations. In doing so, we are able to live with a sense of relative optimism about the state of our world despite the fact that such an outlook contradicts the current state of global affairs.

When I say this, I am not trying to criticize or talk poorly about American people. I am an American and I love America and the people who live here. I do feel that we do need to educate our people in a way that our current event awareness increases in order to develop sympathy for the people involved in these horrors. I am not completely sure how to fix the issue of our emotional detachment from the rest of the world, but I believe that it would begin with humanizing the victims of these horrible acts. If we are able think about things in reverse with a “What would happen if that happened in the United States?” or “How would this make me feel?” mentality, we can move closer towards a better understanding of the world around us. Cultural Routes helped me think in reverse and gave me a foundation so that I will be able to think like that in the future. I am forever thankful that I was able to have this experience.