“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein
Knowledge isn’t overrated. The lack of it can be a hinderance but most would agree it’s best to be overstocked with this asset rather than it be in short supply. However, knowledge is not simply the ability to retain, remember, and recall information quickly and accurately. The dictionary defines it as: “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”
The ability to amass data on an array of subjects used to be the job of an encyclopedia. With nearly universal access via our personal devices, many can quickly retrieve access to an abundance of information, making those once omnipresent volumes now relegated to libraries and other institutions of historic learning.
Having instant availability to practically unlimited information at our fingertips has not always been advantageous either. It provides more options, more choices, and more time processing information and the added worry of its accuracy. This underscores the importance of having both the experience and the skills to apply it.
As was discussed in last week’s article, another negative impact from knowing that you are right is what I’ve identified as, “Benevolent Ignorance”: the presumption that what you know or believe is the only right answer, and entertaining something different is futile, a waste of time, or perhaps a corruption of values.
After cautioning against this kind of leaning and admitting that I, too, am careful not to fall prey to its trap, some comments were kind enough to mention that I would never fall victim to it. While I am most grateful for them, by choice I will always remain vigilant. And perhaps that is the reason why these sentiments can be made in the first place; because of the decision to always be on guard against a buildup of arrogance. It will be part of my lifelong journey.
However, is that really logical? Should it be a requirement for everyone to be this diligent against not falling prey to their own values and beliefs? Is there not a moment when we’ve reached a point where we’re fully convinced we will never be guilty of being a know-it-all?
Clearly there is precedent for constant vigil. Many professions force a heavy demand on improvement. Athletes continually train. Artists tirelessly practice. Certifications of continuing educations are a necessity for many professionals so why shouldn’t one who professes personal opinions not have some minimum standard to uphold?
The opening quote was attributed to one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. His advice was to “not stop questioning.” Curiosity can be a good thing, but I don’t believe there is anything wrong in questioning a belief. It doesn’t mean that particular belief is wrong because the conclusion may only strengthen that belief.
The damage comes more from not questioning. And, an even greater destruction occurs when you demand others accept those same viewpoints.
The more zealous one becomes because of the “rightness” of one’s views, the more propensity for “Benevolent Ignorance” to be at hand. When someone presumes they know what’s better for you than you, corruption, exploitation, and dishonesty have an easier chance to initiate. It often begins with honest intentions – hence the “Benevolent” portion of the saying. But the benevolence quickly devolves into a strain of arrogance fueled by all of the perceived opportunities for power.
Now more than ever, we need people to question and not swallow every morsel of a polished message. Questioning doesn’t denote an ambivalence in your beliefs, but rather a willingness to be open. It demonstrates a willingness of inclusivity and a regard for others’ views and needs. The current headlines frequently demonstrate how divisive and discriminatory the world is becoming due to lack of engagement and unwillingness to listen to anyone being perceived to question their benevolence.
The momentum seems to be flowing in the direction of the dividers who willingly segregate others because their views differ. The tide is flowing so swiftly that it seems we’ve nearly past the point of no return.
But hope is never lost. The remedy is not easy. Medicine is often difficult to swallow.
Each of us needs to become that pillar. If there are no role models paving the way, it’s time we get our own shoes dirty. It’s a difficult decision and not something eagerly anticipated nor producing immediate rewards or benefits. But it’s time we stand up simply because it’s the fair action to take and not what we’ll get from taking that action.
It takes practice. We don’t just wake up one day and decide to change these behaviors. But we must begin to change the process. Try listening to one another and get a better understanding of another’s points of view. See if there is someone this week with whom you’ve disagreed and try to be patient and understanding. Let’s see if we can wipe out this pestilence that is slowly degrading our world.
In some ways, we all have a responsibility to make this world a better place and the best place to start is with ourselves. As for me, one decision I make is to perpetually be on guard against discounting the opinions of others. And there’s no better remedy than being open to questioning the thoughts of others… and my own.