We all have our way of doing things. We have what we were directly taught. We have the values that our culture gives us. We have the lessons we picked up by experience. It’s understandable then, when we see someone else doing things totally differently, that we might assume they’re doing it the wrong way. That’s not how that’s supposed to go, we think to ourselves.
This, the Stoics would tell us, is a recipe for folly. “It’s impossible to begin to learn that which you think you already know,” Epictetus said. Cato the Elder, the great-grandfather of Cato the Younger, coined a maxim in his famous essay, On Agriculture, which explained best practices for farming in the Roman era. “Be careful,” he said about the management practices of your neighbors, “not to rashly refuse to learn from others.” This lesson was picked up on and rephrased by hundreds of writers since, including Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. Only an idiot turns up their nose at how other people do things. Sure, nine times out of ten, you’re right and they’re wrong. But that one time? That’s the game changer.
It’s worth always remembering that other people have different perspectives, different experiences, and, in some cases, better schooling than you. What if they discovered a shortcut? What if they learned, painfully—through trial and error—something that could save you from suffering? A Stoic cannot allow their logic and their habits to become rigid or their mind to harden into condescension. We have to be open. We cannot be rash or dismissive.
There is always something to learn—from everyone and in any situation. Even if it is only a reminder of why you do the things you do the way you do them. But hopefully you seek out disconfirmation even more than confirmation.
Learn from others, always.