1.14. Why We Need to Be Open-Minded and Humble

The reason that open-mindedness and humility are so rare is because we live in an era when all the forces are pushing us away from those traits.

If we want to be in the right frame of mind to create real, lasting social change, we have to be open-minded and humble.

Those are traits that a lot of people aspire to have, and claim to have—but very few actually have in practice.

It isn’t actually that hard to admit that we don’t even know half of what we think we know.

We’re extremely feeble, finite, fallible creatures. We adopt and cling to these crude mental shortcuts to make sense of all the dizzying complexity of existing in this enormous universe, and this little rock with seven and a half billion people living on it.

This is how many complicated, unique human beings are alive right now. This is how many mental operations our brains make every single second. This is how many atoms exist in the known universe.

Do you really think there’s any combination of a few paltry words and ideas that can do justice to all that?

The reason that open-mindedness and humility are so rare isn’t because they’re hard to achieve. Even some of the smartest people who’ve ever lived have had those traits.

The reason they’re rare is because we live in an era when all the forces are pushing us in the other direction, away from those traits.

Truth, knowledge, and beliefs have become a battlefield. And we’ve been trained, like good soldiers, to spout the party line, to exaggerate the benefits of our beliefs and the flaws of other beliefs, to pretend that we have all the answers.

But we don’t. Those are just battlefield tactics. We do them because everybody does them—not because they’re actually true.

Scientific research, for example, has some flaws. Most scientists will admit that, in private. But in a world where millions of people can’t even accept the basic, overwhelming evidence of evolution or global warming, it’s easier to just pretend publicly that those flaws don’t exist.

Religions—all religions—have flaws. Most believers, even if they agree with most of what their religion preaches, will still have their disagreements. But in a secularizing world, in competition with a bunch of other religions and philosophies, most believers will pretend publicly that their religion is always right—because they fear that if they don’t, what they value about their religion will be stamped out.

I’m not saying you need to give up your beliefs. I’m saying there’s a ton of pressure on all of us to turn our beliefs into something they’re not.

We’ve never had seven and a half billion people alive on this planet before. We’ve never had such a global, interconnected society before. We’ve never had this rapid pace of social change before.

I think we can figure out how to manage it. I really do. But not if we stay stuck imagining we’ve already got it all figured out. Not if we keep pretending our limited, fallible beliefs are infallible. Not if we don’t have the open-mindedness and humility to allow for the possibility that the way forward may be completely different than we ever imagined.


This is the 26th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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