Wisdom, Humility, and Socrates

January 3, 2017

Categories: Humility

Most people think that the more you know, the better decisions you make. I don’t think this is always the case. Wisdom requires knowledge, yes, but it also requires a good deal of humility.

The tradition of questioning what you think you know to be true is not a recent phenomenon. Socrates, the man whom many consider to be the first philosopher, made a habit of questioning everyone and their beliefs, including himself. His calling card was something we now call Socratic questioningasking himself and others, “Is it true?”

One day after Socrates questioned one of the most respected leaders of his day, he said the following: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he imagines he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not imagine that I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not imagine I know what I do not know.

It’s important to question what we think we know to be true, both for our own good and the good of our relationships and communities. In our personal lives, some of our most persistent problems occur because of problematic beliefs and thoughts. For example, we might feel depressed and think we are not worthy of love, perhaps based on a difficult relationship with our parents. It can be helpful to investigate this belief, and consider whether it is true.

In our relationships and communities, our beliefs and thoughts are often the cause of conflict and turmoil. We make up stories about our family, friends, and co-workers, which may or may not be accurate. We hold broad stereotypes about entire groups of people, which are often untrue. It can be helpful to question, be curious, and consider whether our beliefs and thoughts are true and helpful.

What we think we know is often the cause of much of our problems and misery. Consider taking a lesson from Socrates and letting go of (or at least softening your grip on) what you think you know to be true. Question everything with humility, and you may find a path to wisdom.

Discussion: What do you think of the link between humility and wisdom? What areas of your life do you have strong beliefs that you know to be true? What would it look like to question and examine those beliefs?


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