“When I open myself up to the vastness of my own ignorance, I can’t help but feel a sudden suffocating feeling. I have just one small mind, a tiny, leaky boat upon which to go exploring knowledge in a vast and knotty sea of which I carry no clear map”Brian Resnick, Science Reporter at Vox
Part of the process I used to write this post, in addition to research, was that I took some time to think about the evolution of my own personal beliefs and values, an evolution that I think was essential in crafting my identity and sense of self. I don’t know if I would have ever made these changes unless I allowed myself to question, doubt, and be wrong. I asked myself when I shifted my views, how I did it, and how it felt to admit that what I once believed in whole-heartedly, I now believe is wrong. Intellectual humility is just that — the characteristic that allows for admission of wrongness, and a characteristic that I believe is at the heart of growth growth, at both the personal and community level.
“It’s [intellectual humility] 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.”
I was first introduced to this concept during a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training that I was fortunate enough to be included in through my AmeriCorps service here in Portland. Education in a safe space is such a valuable resource which I am incredibly grateful for. Once a month, for three hours, I sit down with my fellow AmeriCorps members as we vulnerably unpack issues around cultural identity, microaggressions, socioemotional learning and work together to determine how we can best show up for those that have been historically oppressed in our work. This is often a messy process. There are often mistakes made and tears shed.
It is essential to understand the fact that there are so many ideas and sets of beliefs out there; it’s what makes our world diverse, vibrant, and colorful. Traveling, learning, intentionally educating yourself — these are all examples of how we can ensure we are exposed to a variety of different ways of life. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can’t ignore their existence. We will not be able to grow by denying the existence of things that might upset us. It can be painful but this acknowledgement can allow us to be better advocates for the people and causes we believe in.
“Social psychologists have learned that humility is associated with other valuable character traits: People who score higher on intellectual humility questionnaires are more open to hearing opposing views. They more readily seek out information that conflicts with their worldview. They pay more attention to evidence and have a stronger self-awareness when they answer a question incorrectly.”Quote and links from “Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong” on Vox
Maybe one of the reasons why intellectual humility is so rare currently in our culture is that our culture is not a very safe space. It is scary to admit our wrongness and we’re not very nice to each other. The Trump administration is proof that we’re encouraging blind ignorance, rewarding it, actually, with power.
I want to clarify, here, though that even as I write this, I am working on this skill currently. Part of being intellectually humble is stating “I am still working and learning, I am not perfect at this.”
The truth is that to be human is to be ignorant. As uncomfortable as this is to admit, I think that once we admit this and start celebrating admitting that we’re wrong, we can create a safe place for people to say “I once thought this but now, I’m not so sure.”
Welcome to the human experience. We are all not as smart as we’d like to think we are. Intellectual intelligence is fucking hard. I know this. But I think we can try a bit harder, myself included. I think it’s something vitally important to our growth. Allow yourself to listen, allow yourself to evolve.
Love + Light, dear friends — Allison