(At 25, I followed my flip flops to China to meet the people who made them.)
I’ll forever be a wide-eyed recent college grad. At least this is so in the pages of my first book Where Am I Wearing? The book follows me from the age of 22 to 31.
This is actually thrown in my face some. Browse the one-star reviews on Goodreads (thankfully there aren’t a ton) and you’ll see for yourself. I wear flip-flops! I’m too folksy! (I probably still am too folksy for some folks. For instance, I use the word folks.) I asked Bibi Russell if she knew Gandhi! What did I think I’d see when I visited garment workers in Bangladesh?!
Some of these criticisms are people who just don’t like me. Some of the “he’s naive” arguments are spot on. I was naive about a good many things in the beginning of the book and far less naive about some of those things at the end of the WEARING journey. That’s the point! The journey changed me.
Let the Journey Change You
This week I’ll turn 37. My daughter is in the first grade, and my four-year-old son is getting bigger by the day. Life has brought me to tears of joy and pain. I’ve felt the weight of adult life. I’m more familiar with death and disease, and more aware of my own mortality.
My time isn’t all my own. Instead of “my time” there is “bath time” and “bedtime” and “dance party time.” I’m not complaining. I’m finding joy in the lives of others. This is all part of my journey, too. A journey that again will change me, if I live it right.
Over time, I’m becoming less naive about some things, but the greatest wisdom I’ve gained is to admit my ignorance and challenge it. The nonprofit, community storytelling project I co-founded, The Facing Project, regularly does this on a whole host of issues from poverty to addiction and sex trafficking.
I combat my own ignorance every day, much in the same way I combatted it in my books: by asking questions.
Never Stop Asking Questions
Curiosity kills ignorance.
Knowledge isn’t just gained, it is pursued, and that pursuit is fueled by curiosity.
As naive as I was when I set off into the world to meet the person who made my shirt, I had the curiosity part right. I asked uncomfortable questions of others and of myself, and I haven’t stopped.
I visit 30 or so colleges each year. I take this as a huge responsibility and go out of my way to meet every student who wants to meet me, to answer their emails and tweets and Facebook posts years after we first met. To be a part of their journey in anyway and to help encourage their curiosity are some of the most rewarding parts of my career. Today, when I sign copies of Wearing, I often inscribe the best advice I have for them…
Never stop asking questions!
In 2012, when I was working on the second edition of Wearing, I could’ve edited out some of my ignorance. There were plenty of face-palm moments in Wearing. But I didn’t. It was important to me that I preserved how I felt and what I said when I was 22-years-old pursuing big questions.
Many of those questions are still unanswerable. It is essential as responsible humans that we continue to ask tough questions, pursue our curiosity, and pursue answers regardless of how unattainable they seem.
What invisible systems are in place that have benefited me, but not others?
How can I be a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend?
What are my responsibilities as a local and global citizen?
If you want to call pursuing unanswerable questions naive, I’m proud to be naive. But not asking them is to live a life of apathy. And that’s not okay. Apathy breeds ignorance.
Have the Courage to be Curious
I’m terrified of apathy.
We recently moved into the house we hope to live in forever. Our kids are happy and healthy. My wife is amazing. My work is rewarding and meaningful. I’m as happy as I could be. You know how everyone says Facebook is an unrealistic, overly positive perspective of a person’s life? Well, on Facebook, I feel like I have to tone it down. My life is happier than it seems on Facebook. I find myself at times literally running from place-to-place on my daily routine because I love each part of my day that much. Annoying, right? My point is that I could be happy living in my little bliss bubble and not asking the tough questions.
But the older I get the more injustices I see. The more opportunities and freedoms we have, the more responsibility we have to fight injustice. I’m not sure I saw that when I first wrote Wearing. But I see it now.
As much as I cringe at the naivete of 22-year-old me, I’m proud of him having the courage to follow his curiosity.
Let’s not judge those who are pursuing knowledge; let’s pity those who think they’ve attained it.