Thinking critically is necessary to prevent our individual and collective confidence from soaring unjustifiably to dangerous heights. Of course, to think critically, humility is required. Absent humility, we wouldn’t have the good sense to question the accuracy of our conclusions. Extremism and political absolutism (I’m looking at you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) tend to result.
For this reason, I maintain that it is better to be uneducated than to be badly educated. Ignorance is one thing. Arrogance is something else entirely. As Mark Twain observed, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Although we can’t be saved in ignorance, arrogance is damning.
People have a tendency of making sweeping generalizations without considering, at the very least, the complexity not just of the issue at hand, but of themselves and others. Just think, you are where you are. That’s obvious. What is less obvious, however, is why you are where you are. Following Muhammad Ali’s return to the United States after his title fight with George Foreman, a reporter asked, “Champ, what did you think about Africa?” His reply – shockingly – “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat!” For our sensibilities, it’s almost too much to bear. But he’s right: Muhammad Ali would not be who Muhammad Ali had become had his grandfather not gotten “on that boat”. Which begs the question: Knowing what he knew then, if he was given the power to choose differently for his grandfather (and by extension himself), would he? Would his grandfather? Or would his grandfather have willingly sacrificed himself to the evils of slavery if he knew it would provide his grandson opportunities that otherwise would have been denied him?
And there’s more. Why was his grandfather his grandfather? In other words, why wasn’t he born to some other parents at some other time in history? Indeed, why weren’t you or I? At least potentially, as Muhammad Ali so shrewdly observed, the circumstances of our lives could have been very, very different. And yet, here we are. Why?
The answer of course, at least to us, is unknowable. And that’s the point, as unsettling as that might be. Although it matters why we were born under the circumstances that we were, we don’t get to know exactly why it matters. Whether we’ve reached the limits of our ability to reason or of God’s willingness to reason with us, the point remains: faith is the only logical next step. To be sure, he who wins the contest of life is he who—regardless of his circumstances—believes he can.
Importantly, whatever our circumstances, truth – not people – ultimately governs our lives, particularly our eternal lives. As Cecil B. DeMille observed of principles (i.e. universal truths), “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” Our personal and interpersonal success is proportional to our understanding of and faith in the truth. Which means that although we can’t know everything about everything, we must learn as much as we can about the most important things.
And lest we think people can logically come before principles, it should be noted: we cannot take care of people, much less ourselves, if we are unwilling to care first for the truth. It would be like a doctor prescribing a cancer patient ibuprofen. He has cancer, not a headache. The distinction matters more than the doctor, at least if effective treatment is the goal.
Sometimes the thing that holds us back most is our unwillingness to let go of the people – to include our past selves – and paradigms that are holding us back (see Matthew 10:34-37). We look beyond the mark when we think we can reasonably sacrifice truth for—well, anything, really.
But rarely is the truth easily discoverable, especially when it threatens our way of life and relationships. How many of us can honestly say we love the truth more than we love ourselves and others? Accordingly, how can we say we love ourselves and others if we’re indifferent to or hate the truth?
I am becoming increasingly convinced that we cannot be indifferent to or hate the truth and honestly love ourselves or others. Why? Because to hate the truth is to love only the idea of what we wish were true about ourselves and others. In other words, it is to limit our God-given potential and to risk limiting that of others. As Jesus Christ taught, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The temptation to value our personal, professional and political agendas over the truth is almost always present. Under this spell, not only has our thinking been compromised as evidenced by our willingness to cut off our nose to spite our face, but so too has our ability to love.
Our indebtedness to the truth is absolute. Once we realize this we’ll be enabled to truly love people, including ourselves—but not before.