Ignorance Is No Excuse

by Aaron

When I was in high school, there was a rumor that went around about a gang initiation that involved murdering a complete stranger. The new gang member, as the story went, would drive around with his headlights off at night. He would wait for the first unsuspecting good Samaritan to flash their headlights to let him know his headlights were off. Then the new initiate would follow that person and shoot them to death.

The story supposedly originated in California, but the rumor spread by word of mouth, email forwards, and even fax(!) around the entire United States. According to snopes.com, this rumor spread to Canada, Great Britain and Mexico. Unknown numbers of people stopped letting other drivers know their headlights were off at night to avoid being the next victim of a gang murder.

Except the story was totally false.

There has never been shown to be a single murder based on this supposed gang initiation. Still, the story was accepted as fact and changed the behavior of people across the world.

People who are alerted to this hoax and others like it are much more likely to forward it around to their entire email address book than they are to do a quick check to see if this story is even true. Rather than spend 30 seconds googling the story, people will react, change their own behavior, and urge everyone they know to take heed as well.


We humans believe we are rational beings. We think we make our decisions based on logic and reason. We think we weigh all of the information available to us and come to a conclusion based on the evidence.

The truth is, we make our decisions based on a gut emotional reaction and then search for logic later, if at all.

This kind of behavior is not limited to email forwards like the headlight gang initiation murders. We assume we know the truth about something and then base our behavior on that assumption, often to our detriment. A common example: I would do X, but I can’t because Y.

I would lose weight, but I can’t because I’m genetically predisposed to be fat.

I would ask for a raise, but my boss would just say no.

I would start my own business, but I don’t know where to start.

It’s in our nature to live our lives based on assumptions rather than take the time to see if they’re true.

It’s easier on the ego to believe that you don’t have what you want in life because it’s impossible to get. It’s harder to accept that you’re missing out on the life you want because you refuse to try.

The information you need to find out whether your assumption is true or not is often a few minutes away. An appointment with your doctor. A meeting with your boss. A google search. Isn’t it worth a few minutes to make a huge life improvement like bettering your health, getting a raise, or becoming your own boss?

It’s not that you don’t know where to start or you don’t know how. Recognize your hesitation to take the all-important first step towards what you want for what it is: you’re a wimp. You’d rather coast along, never knowing whether a huge life improvement is within your grasp rather than risk bruising your ego.

You’re scared to face the truth that you CAN have what you want, because once you know it’s within your power, you’re obligated to do something about it.

Having the knowledge that you’re completely capable of creating the life you want is a scary place to be. Once you know you CAN do it, it’s all on you. Once you know a better life is possible, you have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t happen.

I used to believe I couldn’t run long distances.  My body just wasn’t made for it. “I get shin splints when I run,” I told a friend of mine. “You know what shin splints come from?” he responded, “Underuse. You stop getting them when you run consistently.” I refused to believe it at first. I couldn’t have been avoiding running long distances my entire life based on some false belief that it was impossible, right?

I looked it up online, and he was right. I wasn’t born with “shin splints,” I just hadn’t tried long enough for them to go away. I felt pretty silly. But armed with the new knowledge, I gave running another try and found something that helped me lose weight and improve my health. Several years later, I have run a half-marathon, a few 10Ks, more 5Ks than I can count, and in the past 8 months, I’ve completed two Tough Mudders.

If there is something you want that you believe is impossible, it is worth giving it a second look. Don’t just accept your first excuse. Test your assumptions. A better life is within your grasp.

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– who has written 105 posts on The Mastermind Project.

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