I haven’t ever tried to line up personal qualities in descending order of importance, but if I were to do a preliminary sort, I think I’d put humility up fairly high. That impulse gets reinforcement from the quote I bring you today, from Leo Tolstoy:
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
On a general level there’s a lot that we could talk about here–learning, intelligence, how we as humans come to know things in the first place. But as a practical, individual matter, it’s hard to imagine that we can make any progress extricating ourselves from the predicament of the “most intelligent man” unless we can develop some humility.
I don’t mean to exalt the idea of being slow-witted or uninformed, nor to advocate for refusing to hold opinions. But there’s got to be a way to keep from having our ideas set as if in concrete. To allow for the possibility that we don’t understand, that we might not have the final answer, is vital.
Do you have ideas about how to keep yourself open?
If this Tolstoy quote struck a familiar chord, it might be because it lines up nicely with a quote from a post in May by Daniel Boorstin. If you missed it, find it here.
*This photo of Tolstoy, taken by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii in 1908, was the first color photo portrait taken in Russia.