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Intellectual Humility

Intellectual humility is one’s ability and willingness to recognize their knowledge and understanding of any specific topic is limited and be open to hearing new information, alternative perspectives, and possibly even a change of mind if presented with a superior argument.

The opposite of intellectual humility is intellectual hubris, dogmatism, and zealotry. This is the belief that one’s current level of information and understanding has no room for improvement. This mindset leads to adversarial attitudes toward alternative perspectives and new information. It’s incredibly unfortunate that many people can see humility as a sign of weakness when in the opposite is actually true.

Contrary to much of the current public discourse, intellectual humility is far and away the better approach. It leads to better decisions, more widespread and deeper knowledge, stronger relationships, less mistakes, more free thinking, better ideas, better problem solving, lowered stress, and increased networks. Intellectually humble people are not afraid to admit they hold now, or once held, a flawed idea. They are curious and open to new information helping them learn about the world and change their minds in light of new evidence or a better argument.

Intellectually honest people will be able to better grasp complex issues. They’ll be more open to considering all sides of an issue evaluating nuances leading to better solutions. Additionally, they will have a more thought out idea of what other effects certain solutions may cause. They will be able to consider both the seen and unseen consequences that Frederic Bastiat wrote about.

Quality of life is highly dependent on relationships and intellectually humble people are more likely to have strong relationships because they are more likely to treat people with conscientiousness and respect. They are more willing to consider others' viewpoints. They are more likely to compromise. They are better conversationalists, stronger thinkers, and simply more enjoyable to be around in general.

How can we become more intellectually humble?

1) Be mindful of your biases. We all have them. But many people aren’t aware and it makes it impossible to overcome them.

2) Listen. Be open to ideas and perspectives you don’t currently hold. Don’t be combative with alternative ideas. Fitzgerald said something along the lines of “Intelligence is the ability to entertain two contradictory ideas simultaneously”.

3) Admit when you’re wrong. This can be hard to do even when it really wasn’t any fault of our own. Poor output follows poor input much of the time. If we’re exposed to bad information how can we expect anything else? It’s not a character flaw to be wrong. It is a character flaw to not even consider that possibility.

4) Be respectful of others' viewpoints EVEN if they’ve not convinced you. They still own the right to their opinion.

Intellectual humility is a valuable trait that can help us. It can be difficult to maintain, especially when highly emotional subjects are being discussed or when a longtime belief is being challenged. It takes courage to consider a flaw in our own thinking. Humility is a lifelong journey and something we should strive for every day. Perfection is unattainable, but the fact that we can move ever that direction is a positive.

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