The more you know … the more humble you become

“The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know.”

– David T. Freeman

I wanted to expand on this quote because I think that it is one of the greatest quotes of all time.

 

It is a quote that captures human nature extremely well. It is also a summary of the infamous Dunning-Kruger effect. Why is it that the people who know the least are also often the most judgmental? I believe that it is a function of the fact that they do not understand at times, the criteria for what makes someone competent. The big danger to me is that you don’t know something, but think that you do, and when you don’t, you find out the hard way. That can be a greater peril than realizing your limitations in the first place. I’m sure that we have seen many examples in our lives. Even worse are the people who make the same mistakes repeatedly and never try to improve, despite the evidence being overwhelming.

 

There is another way. A more difficult way. To begin it, you have to first accept that you don’t know something and to accept that you may be terrible at it. That does not make you a terrible person, but it might make you want to aspire to be better. That can be a long and difficult road. the more you know, the more you realize in what areas you could get better, in what areas you could accumulate more knowledge, and work towards those goals.

 

As you go along, you will gain more real skills. Paradoxically, the more your learn, the more you’ll realize how much more you have to learn. It is because learning is a never ending system.  You will also recognize the challenges that you face, the areas that you are weak in, and perhaps become  better at mitigating those weaknesses.

 

Perhaps in that case, humility may very well be the greatest sign of strength and intelligence of all. That may seem obvious, but in our society, we seem to value assertiveness, and I would argue, we create a culture that encourages narcissism. The other observation from this is that the most toxic value system would be one that discourages independent thought, questioning, and the pursuit of knowledge.  I just hope that someday, as a species, we can come to terms with this reality.

2 Comments

  1. Benjamin David Steele

    I’m a militant agnostic. I don’t know, and you don’t either. I say that only half-jokingly.

    I’m constantly pointing out ignorance or else declaring my own ignorance. If you don’t know something, just admit you don’t know it. There is no shame in ignorance. The only shame is in pretending to know what you don’t know, i.e., willful ignorance.

    The world is full of knowledge. And none of us will ever know a fraction of it. On top of that, most of the time about most things, we don’t even know that we don’t know and that there is something we should know, complete and utter ignorance.

    That is fine. It’s just the human condition. But we humans manage to bumble along with what limited info and awareness that we have.

    Reply
    1. Chris Liu (Post author)

      What has been scary to me has been seeing people who do not know remain happy that they do not know or more perversely, proud about their ignorance. I particularly stress the word “Scary” when I consider the long-term implications.

      Certainly, there is no shame in ignorance, but one should always be open to new ideas, new knowledge, and have a strong desire to aspire to be better. If a person is ignorant, I think that they should try to gain at least a basic understanding of a topic, especially when said topic might affect them personally.

      Perhaps there may be a lesson for me as well – it is hard, if not impossible to change people.

      Reply

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