I want to be the kind of person who is more curious than judgmental, more inclined to challenge my own ideas than embrace unwarranted certitude.
I am grateful for those who have shown me kindness in my ignorance, who chose to be patient and empathetic instead of rude and demeaning. I appreciate the humility of those who acknowledge that being right about some things doesn’t mean they are right about all things. I am the most likely to challenge my ignorance when the wisdom and correction I need is given by people who value me more than they value being right.
Years ago, I was talking with a friend. We were lamenting together the news of the day and how some of our friends and loved ones refused to accept the truth of some basic facts. I was making the case to my friend that everyone’s opinion has value to them. I honestly believe most people truly believe what they believe. I am confident people are not deliberately employing malice or harm in their ignorance. I know I am often wrong and yet I am rarely, if ever, trying to purposely deceive or inflict harm with false information.
My friend simply said to me, “I get that, but you treat ignorance like a virtue.” It stung because it was true. In my attempt to understand others. I often overlooked false ideas, misconceptions or even alternative realities and failed to acknowledge the harm that causes. I have caused harm with my ignorant assumptions even when I didn’t mean to. I should not excuse the harm just because there was no ill will.
An innocuous example: When I was young I didn’t understand proper tire care. I assumed if you bought a 50,000 mile tire you could expect to get 50,000 miles out of it. I was ignorant of the need for rotation, tire pressure, alignment etc. I learned the hard way that even though my lack of tire knowledge had no malice it was causing harm and potentially putting myself and my family in danger.
As the late Senator Patrcik Moynihan was famous for saying, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts.” When we treat our opinions as facts we can cause harm whether we mean to or not.
In our age of instant communication and hyperbolic hyperpolarizing messages, the ability to consume and dispense false information is alarming. So, if our goal is to have and share the best information possible, what do we do? Here are some things that have helped me:
First: I can ensure that the things I share are vetted, fact-checked and have the best information available. I can do my part to be informed and humble enough to admit when I’m wrong or lack sufficient information.
Second: I can focus on fixing myself instead of you. I have written about this before. I am sympathetic to the desire to call out but I’m convinced we do better if we avoid calling out and instead spend our energy inviting in. We then can create communities where facts matter more than ego.
Third: I can embrace intellectual curiosity and humility and reject unwarranted certitude and the desire to be right.
I am committed to doing my best to not only relay the best, most accurate information, but also really try to understand where others are coming from. So, how do I do that and not ignore the harm that false, misleading and untruths cause? The only way I know is to try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Again, I am most likely to challenge my ignorance than defend it when the wisdom and correction I need is given by people I know value me more than they value being right. The people I respect most are those who value truth more than their ego. As I continue to challenge my own assumptions, I find myself less inclined to find faults in others and more inclined to see my own.
If we are serious and sober about the need to preserve and enhance a fair, just and equitable society, we each have the duty to embrace truth and shun ignorance and deception.