What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult. – Sigmund Freud
It is a common thing for us to look to our superiors, our elders, and the credentialed when we hope to learn something new. We like our teachers to be savvy and wizened. After all, they have experience, and they have seen what works and what fails with their own eyes.
The problem with taking this position is it is built on the false premise that those “below us” have nothing to teach us. We cut ourselves off from valuable lessons brought by the subordinate, the inexperienced, and the unschooled. Children especially are wonderful teachers. They bring an unbiased wonder to their engagement with the world.
My Three Year Old Daughter, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. – Groucho Marx
First, a little background on me and my family. I am your stereotypically average white guy. In fact, I am the whitest guy I know, drawn from pasty Scandinavian stock. My daughter’s mother is Welsh by heritage, blonde and freckled. It’s safe to say when people think of white folks, they picture us.
So now I suppose you can imagine my three year old daughter, blonde and milky white with rosy cheeks. (Yeah, yeah, dawwww…)
We lived in Southern California. It wouldn’t be accurate to call it a melting pot there. It is more of a stew pot, people from everywhere in the world all stirred together. So even at the tender age of three, my daughter was quite accustomed to seeing people who didn’t “look like us.”
We of course had friends of all stripes like you do when you live in a stew pot. One of my better friends, Damen, is black. This is where things get interesting.
One day my daughter toddles over and says, “Daddy, why do you say Damen is black?” I was confused for a moment. Could she not see that Damen is clearly a dark-skinned fellow, distinctly different from our family?
In my superior experience, I replied with crushing logic, “Because he is. What color do you think he is?”
“He’s brown,” she confidently replied. I had to acquiesce to her, as she knew her basic colors.
Still intent on instructing her how the world works, I proceeded to teach via the Socratic method. “What color are you?” I inquired.
With a look of sad astonishment that I would have to ask about such a self-evident fact, she tersely replied, “I’m pink.” And off she walked.
And so I learned a valuable lesson about what colors we really are.
Humility, In All Its Underrated Glory
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to call her back over and lecture her about how Damen is black, we are white, and she had best get used to the idea. In fact, I was the one who had to get used to a new idea. And that’s where humility comes in.
Some people associate humility with humiliation. After all, the words even look the same. But there is a distinct difference. With humiliation, it is done against your will. With humility, you choose it.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. – Rick Warren
Why choose humility? Because the opposite of humility isn’t glory, it’s stupidity.
Aside from the fact that stupidity is not exactly in vogue, stupidity is a particularly dangerous characteristic to embrace. It is not merely ignorance which can be excused as it is just a lack of knowledge. Stupidity is taking positions in defiance of your knowledge. In other words, it’s when you know better.
Ignorance is easily solved: just add knowledge. But stupidity is harder to crack. But it can be cracked – by adding humility.
So again we ask, why choose humility? Because it sure beats stupidity.
There’s Pride, And Then There’s Pride
There is a lot of confusion out there about the difference between pride and self-esteem. Self-esteem is a healthy pride. An unhealthy pride is called vanity.
People who would have you think they speak of their self-esteem often use the word “pride.” But in fact, they speak only of their vanity. To paraphrase Jane Austen, the difference is self-esteem is what we think of ourselves; vanity is what we would have others think of us.
This gets to the heart of why we often cut ourselves off from learning from our alleged inferiors. How would it look if I had to be schooled by that guy?
In humility (see how I did that?), I offer you this simple solution: get over it. I apologize if that is too simple but this problem is not complicated.
Embrace wisdom wherever you find it, especially if you find it in an uncomfortable place or coming from an uncomfortable source. The three-year-olds in your life will be impressed.