I liked starting with quotes so much I’m going to do it again.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis
“Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the suffering that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
These thoughts come to me as a natural extension of what I was writing yesterday. One of the more severe problems with progress that I see in the world is that people aren’t truly willing to listen to one another. It happens on every side of every issue, and of course the reasons for it can vary. Usually it has to do with assigning that person to a particular group, and categorizing them as an illusory “other”. That group you have assigned them to is one to which you have already previously assigned some agenda or set of reasons for why they think that thing. It doesn’t matter what they say, really. YOU know better. YOU know the reason why they really feel the way that they do.
It’s not something that I think we are particularly cognizant of. It is a trap that is easy to fall into. It is perhaps a byproduct of how busy we are in life… we want to lighten our load by categorizing people so we don’t have to deal with the effort of treating everyone as an individual, genuinely listening with presence and interest to what they have to say. Even if we are certain that they are wrong. Perhaps they are, but you will do no harm by genuinely listening and then offering your heartfelt response to what they actually said. Besides, on any issue you should be willing to accept a small possibility, however unlikely, that you are mistaken, or at least that there might be some new aspect that you may learn from a person who sees it differently.
Another aspect of this superiority complex is when we come across someone who perhaps believes something that we used to believe but no longer do. Or maybe they simply believe something based on what we see as faulty reasoning. If only they understood it correctly, they would see how I am right.
This is something that I see constantly. Among people I know, and among people I don’t. And even though (unfortunately) I’ve most likely done it myself at some point… it drives me crazy when I see it. It results in talking down to someone… or talking down about someone when they are not present. Again, this sometimes is done to certain groups. Among progressive Christians, it is something that commonly happens concerning those more traditional in their beliefs. Perhaps those people are missing the point, but when we treat them with contempt by talking down to or about them, we are only furthering the divide and creating a barrier to enlightenment.
We should always start with the presupposition that we know nothing. That which we think we know, we could easily be wrong about. Things I once believed quite firmly, I now think are completely wrong. In another 20 years, I may think those same things about what I believe now. I cannot know for sure what is true, and so I should not treat with contempt someone who, it seems to me, is behind the curve. For one, knowledge is not an all or nothing proposition. It is quite possible that someone I disagree with on fundamentally everything could bring me some form of enlightenment on a particular idea or issue. As the, perhaps archaic in the digital age saying goes, “even a broken clock is right twice a day”. Even someone we cannot help but perceive as a “broken clock” has the capacity to teach us, and we should be humble enough to accept them as a potential teacher.