Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

"I Didn't Know"
by Christy Little

I was 6 years old when I began a dangerous family joke at the dinner table.

My father would come home and sit at the table, then listen to what offenses my sister and I had committed that day that went beyond even my mother's statute of limitations for forgiveness. In this instance, I believe I left my Crayolas on the floor, which the family Dalmatian ate, leading to a few spectacularly colorful days around the household. My father angrily asked me why I was so careless to leave out my crayons around the dog.

"I didn't know," I said in a sad (and probably manipulative) manner. I looked so woebegone that everybody laughed, and I was forgiven. For a while, what I had stained, broken, lost or spoken were forgiven offenses at the dinner table as my mother listed my sins and I declared, by way of defense, "But I didn't know!" -- earning a laugh instead of a lecture.

The joke's lifespan was short-lived. My father stopped laughing soon enough; he was, after all, the person whose copy of Atlas Shrugged I borrowed in high school. Personal responsibility was an expectation in my family. Whether he was just exasperated that I had thrown a Pop Tart at my sister or understood he was enabling me to become a junior James Taggart, my father laid down the law with a good lecture; tears were shed, and life went on at the Little household.

But I can't say that I never used some variation of "I didn't know" once my father responded, "Really? Well, you should." I can't say before, and sometimes after, I became acquainted with Ayn Rand's works that it wasn't a tempting trump card when I had landed badly. In some cases, it's deceptively tempting to plead ignorance.

And it's something of a trend, isn't it? The lawsuit on behalf of the overweight children that McDonald's is deceptively unhealthy -- vanquished for now, but under appeal -- is a shameless assertion of "I didn't know" -- and even encompasses the demand to be compensated for willful ignorance.

But by evading responsibility in the name of ignorance, people commit a double whammy: They not only make a poor decision, but they also let flawed reason -- and/or another person's decision -- lead them to it. And that can become a "super-size" unconscious habit.

Still, where I've struggled since I last left Howard Roark joyous among his skyscrapers is this: Without the fictional conveniences that Ayn Rand could employ for her characters, I will, in fact, make mistakes in my life. Becoming soft in anticipation of that is no excuse. Counting on forgiveness is no reason to embrace carelessness.

And accepting responsibility for those mistakes -- instead of saying "I didn't know" -- is crucial. It's a way of life whether you're repairing a close relationship or explaining to an anonymous operator whom you'll never meet when you'll have your cable bill paid.

It feels wonderful to be right. And it's not so bad when you've made amends for being wrong. The passionate pursuit of being true to yourself and an ability to live with the consequences of doing so ARE what it's like to be right. There's no room for "I didn't know" in that kind of life.

In many regards, I don't leave out my figurative Crayolas anymore. Taking responsibility for my actions 100% of the time, including holding in the "I didn't know" -- including when I didn't -- is the first step toward embracing my sense of life as a true objectivist.

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