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The More I See, the Less I Know

It’s fair to say the truth is elusive. In order to identify truth, you need to know more than its definition and even more than the thinking skills required to uncover it. At the very beginning of one’s quest for truth, one must possess and embrace specific behaviors that serve as keys to unlock them. One area of behaviors that facilitate the search for truth regards dispositions of thought and includes reflection, perseverance, and deliberation before judging. Creativity and clear communication also play an important part in the ability to make accurate determinations of the truth. But perhaps intellectual humility is the foundation of great thought and must be present at the beginning of any truth-finding mission.

Greek philosopher Socrates put it best when he noted: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” What he was referencing was intellectual humility. This is the recognition that what one believes could, in fact, be wrong, and thus creates in oneself an openness to new ideas.

Why is intellectual humility important? According to Lottie Miles in Learning Mind, people who are humble in thought are able to be less defensive when discussing issues because they are open to thinking about the existence of their own blind spots on the topic. This in turn creates the openness to look further into an issue. People who demonstrate this type of humility listen more to others and question evidence more carefully from both their world view as well as others.

David Hitchcock created a list of behaviors that enhance critical thinking in order to better determine truth. Many of them are outgrowths of humility of thought and highlight how one might better develop this behavior. The behaviors are further discussed below.

Intellectual Humility

Enhances the ability to

Have an open mind Identify one’s biases Consider alternatives Reflect/revise beliefs

Identify one’s own biases, prejudices, and egocentric and sociocentric beliefs

Everyone has favorites- favorite season, ice cream flavor, genre of music, etc. In the same way, we all have specific dislikes. Our life experiences and predispositions help to create these values that we carry with us. It is important to identify these in order to obtain a starting point of where we stand on issues and where possible incongruous thought may be lurking.

One good way to begin to reflect on this is to brainstorm lists of values. Start by creating a list entitled: What I Believe. Then create three columns with one headed Spiritual Issues, another Societal Issues, and the last one Family Issues. Next, write down your strongly held beliefs in the appropriate column. Upon completion of this, prioritize the beliefs in each column by number ranking them, with one being the value you hold the strongest, 2 the next strongest, and so on until each one has been assigned a number. Repeat this for the other two columns. Retain this list to have as a reminder of where you stand on specific issues so you can revisit it if you find yourself delving further into one of the issues. Knowing where you stand at the beginning of a search for truth allows you to know where to look for any blind spots or holes in your thinking that you might possess.

Consider alternatives/options

Intellectual humility allows room for the possibility that other ideas may have credence. Asking open-ended questions and listening with the purpose to understand rather than to respond are techniques that will enable you to gather further information about other views on a topic.

Open-ended questions are those that cannot be answered in one or two words. They require some degree of explanation and are asked in such a way that an unexpected response could easily surface. The opposite of an open-question is, you guessed it, a closed-question. An example of a closed question is: Do you think football is the best sport? One would learn little more about how the responder felt beyond the yes or no answer. To turn this into an open-question, it could be rephrased to: “How do you know when a sport meets the level of providing the ultimate athletic experience?” More information can be obtained by providing follow-up questions such as: “Why do you think this?” or “Can you give me some examples?” both of which are open-ended questions themselves. These types of questions can also be used in conjunction with closed questions to make them more valuable in terms of information shared.

Just as important as the questions you ask is the way you hear what has been shared. Active listening by its very name implies that you are present in the moment. Arlin Cuncic describes it as going beyond merely hearing the words but also seeking to understand their meaning and intent. He suggests simple things, like making eye contact and noticing non-verbal cues as well as paraphrasing and reflecting back about what has been said. What active listening does not include is the making of judgement or giving advice. It is a time for information gathering. This type of communication creates a positive conversation that makes the other person feel heard and valued and is an excellent way to promote an open dialogue and keep the hunt for truth open for business!

Reconsider and revise beliefs when honest reflection suggests change is warranted

Just because you question your beliefs doesn’t mean you are wrong. But by looking at other points of view on an issue and its accompanying evidence, you may come across enough evidence to rethink your stance, either in part or whole.

As Jeffrey Nevid points out, in order to determine if your belief should change, one must “hold it up to the light of reason.” Does new evidence further support your belief, or does it invalidate some part or all of it? By weighing the veracity of new evidence, you can decide what changes need to occur in the ways you currently think about the belief.

Being intellectually humble is crucial to being able to seek the truth and find it, and this is not an easy virtue to embrace. Most of us would like to think we possess humility, but we may just be fooling ourselves. To find out where you are in the realm of intellectual honesty, you may want to take this quick quiz that Maurice Elias shared.

For each statement, respond with a Yes, No, or Maybe:

· “I recognize the value in opinions that are different from my own.”

· “I’m willing to admit it if I don’t know something.”

· “I’m willing to hear others out, even if I disagree with them.”

· “I question my own positions because they could be wrong.”

· “In the face of conflicting evidence, I usually am not open to changing my opinions.”

· “I can respect others, even if I disagree with them in important ways.”

Study the impact of the answers you gave for each statement. Is there an area you need to address as you move forward in your search for the truth? John Lennon said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” By embracing intellectual humility with this type of outlook, you will find your quest for what is real will be much more readily found. Without it, the truth will be fleeting at best.


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