intellectual humility

Warning: this might be my least popular blog post. Ever. It also is relevant and true.

I therefore encourage you to proceed with caution. Read at your own risk. I have zero intent to disrespect.

We’ve come to 2019, where our world continues to clunkily seek its way of relating and operating in a crazy culture… a society in which the lack of humility seems totally glaring in our highest levels of leadership and in those who offer vocal opposition or support. People are justifying judgment.

Judgment is fueled by the absence of humility. When we don’t know what we don’t know, we tend to get puffed up. As Brian Resnick, a science reporter at Vox.com, wrote in a brilliant editorial last week, “It’s so hard to see our own ignorance.”

Quoting the work of Julia Rohrer, a personality psychologist and Life Fellow at Deutshes Institut Für Wirtschaftforschung, Berlin:

“I do think it’s a cultural issue that people are not willing to admit mistakes.”

Resnick wrestles with the profound, phenomenal virtue: intellectual humility.  

Intellectual humility is the self-awareness that some things you believe might be wrong.

Writes Resnick [Note: all emphasis mine]…

“… Don’t confuse it with overall humility or bashfulness. It’s not about being a pushover; it’s not about lacking confidence, or self-esteem. The intellectually humble don’t cave every time their thoughts are challenged.

Instead, it’s a method of thinking. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. Intellectual humility is about being actively curious about your blind spots. One illustration is in the ideal of the scientific method, where a scientist actively works against her own hypothesis, attempting to rule out any other alternative explanations for a phenomenon before settling on a conclusion. It’s about asking: What am I missing here?

It doesn’t require a high IQ or a particular skill set. It does, however, require making a habit of thinking about your limits, which can be painful. ‘It’s a process of monitoring your own confidence.’”

Unfortunately, too many are unaware of their limits — perhaps feeling as if they have few or none — either precisely because of their intelligence or experience or because they allow opinion-based analysis to serve as their primary news source.

Pick your issue. Pick your passion. Pick the budget shutdown, the Supreme Court, or the 2016 election, for example. We each have an opinion. The biased sources such as CNN, FOX, and MSNBC feed it. We then conclude we are right; we don’t know what we don’t know; we don’t recognize the limits to our knowledge; and we are not encouraged by the likeminded to monitor our own confidence.

Resnick surmises three main challenges on this wiser path to humility: 

  1. In order for us to acquire more intellectual humility, we all, even the smartest among us, need to better appreciate our cognitive blind spots. Our minds are more imperfect and imprecise than we’d often like to admit. Our ignorance can be invisible.
  2. Even when we overcome that immense challenge and figure out our errors, we need to remember we won’t necessarily be punished for saying, ‘I was wrong.’ And we need to be braver about saying it. We need a culture that celebrates those words.
  3. We’ll never achieve perfect intellectual humility. So we need to choose our convictions thoughtfully.

I have long averred that intelligence and wisdom are not the same. Of the two, wisdom is the only virtue; intelligence often gets in the way. 

Intelligence often impedes our want and willingness to listen and learn from the different, recognizing the immense value in the different. Intelligence can thus cloud the reality that there are limits to what we know and can possibly know.

Let me be clear: intellectual humility is not easy to attain, but in a world that increasingly justifies judgment, arrogance, and blatant disrespect — especially from the intelligent — it is a virtue worth striving for.

What, my friends, don’t you know?

Where might you be wrong?

Respectfully…

AR

One Reply to “intellectual humility”

  1. Respectively, I always try to ask myself if my thought and/or words are hurtful or helpful before proceeding or voicing them. We absolutely need more kindness today and more Godly like people

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