Epictetus reminds us: “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
He tells us that this is the “first task” of philosophy: to get rid of our preconceptions, to do away with the dogmas we have in our heads. Be humble. Be open to things you don’t know, or things that challenge what you do know.
Emerson talked about the advantage of a life of humility in his memorable line: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
And yet, how many of us are prepared to go into today to treat every encounter as a chance to learn? How many of us compare ourselves to other people with an eye towards quiet improvement?
Humility is an easy virtue to talk about—and a much harder one to put into practice. We don’t want to seem stupid. We don’t like saying, “I don’t know” or “You might have a point.” Harder still: “Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I have more to learn?”
But it’s this attitude that leads to change and improvement. So give it a try. You can’t get better if you think you’re superior.
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