When I woke up today, on Ash Wednesday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, I certainly was not expecting to find a celebration of Mardi Gras, which was yesterday, outside Usdan Student Center. I suppose first must come the delineation of the two holidays. First of all, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance for many Christians. It is the first day of Lent, the season of repentance, sacrifice, and holiness in preparation for Easter Sunday. Many Christians give up something or take on a new spiritual practice for the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is traditionally celebrated by attending services to receive ashes in the shape of a cross on the forehead as a sign of remorse for sins and by fasting. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, therefore, is the day prior to Ash Wednesday where you take advantage of still whatever you are giving up for Lent. Traditionally, it is the day that you must get rid of all the fat in your house in preparation for Lent. Hence the name Fat Tuesday.
Therefore, I’m sure you understand my surprise at seeing Student Events celebrating Mardi Gras with coffee, donuts, masks, balloons and Mardi Gras beads. It is a celebration of not only a holiday that was yesterday but a celebration of a holiday associated with binging on food and other things being celebrated on a day of fasting and repentance. At first I just thought it was absurd until a friend asked me if I was offended. Offended? Not really. I highly doubt that Student Events decided to celebrate Mardi Gras today to spite all those celebrating Ash Wednesday. But I would be lying if I said that I did not feel a slight twinge at realizing how little people know of what I believe, at how little people understand what is such an integral part of who I am.
I think this therefore brings up a good question to consider. When does ignorance become insensitivity? When does limited knowledge of faith and beliefs cross the line into being offensive? I obviously cannot claim in any way that this situation is unique to me. If anything, I have been fairly spared such instances for most of my life. But I would venture that most of us have felt this way at some point. What we believe is important to us and we wish that people would be knowledgeable about it or seek to understand it.
So when does ignorance become insensitivity? I definitely do not have the answer. I am interested to hear what everyone has to say in the comments. In the meantime, I think the best thing we can do is educate ourselves about what others believe. I know that it means so much to people when you are knowledgeable about their beliefs and it means even more when you seek to truly understand their beliefs and their experience.