Roger Marolt: I don’t know why, but I do
Humility might be the greatest ingredient in developing wisdom
There are three powerful words we don’t say enough: I don’t know.
You could consider this short sentence four words, if you count the contraction in the middle as two. I admit that I have used contractions in order to whittle columns down to the targeted word counts my editors believe are appropriate for what I usually have to say.
But is a contraction technically two words or just one? Several trustworthy sources indicate the correct answer is that a contraction counts as two, according to my research. I did not know this.
By contrast, I think “well” is a word that perhaps we use too much. I am not referring to the way we use it to describe our state of being, although I think we could be more expressively open about how we are feeling when somebody asks how we are.
I think we use “well” too often to buy time to come up with answers and explanations for things we actually know little or even nothing about.
Let me give you an example: What if I asked you what it takes to become a Snowmass Village local? Many people would begin their answer with, “Well …” You should pay attention to whatever they say next, because it is likely unsubstantiated albeit entertaining nonsense that might be fun to reflect on.
On the other hand, if someone answers the question with “I don’t know,” you can be pretty much assured they are at the very least honest and probably wise in practical ways of the world.
I have grown to believe that humility might be the greatest ingredient in developing wisdom. It gives us something to shoot for as we get older. Many things diminish as we age, from skin elasticity to our memory to feats of physical prowess, but the one thing that can actually get better with age is the development of wisdom. It is not a given, though, despite what some assume.
Many believe we accumulate wisdom, but this is only mistaking it with the accumulation of “facts,” many of which might not even be true or tested through personal experience. We can all think of examples of the person who has not aged gracefully, ending up an insufferable old bore. This is the grandfather whose frequent lectures the grandchildren flee, rather than the one they seek out on the front porch and beg to tell more enchanting tales of life’s experiences along the way in a life lived in awe and wonder.
We need to be less trusting in what education can do for us. It is not a given that more years in school will make us smarter. In fact, the more arrogant we are about this, the worse it can actually be for us in the way of critical thinking and reasoned analysis.
Once you have convinced yourself that you are the smartest person in any room you walk into based on your degree you got from some prestigious university, it is the telltale sign that you have quit learning. Be wary of the person who lets you know where they went to school unprompted. That is the person who became a complacent learner the day they got their SAT scores back in their junior year of high school.
There are uncountable things that I have argued, in many cases until veins in my forehead visibly swelled, that I swore were absolute truth only to discover later were indisputably false. How may times have I come home from gatherings to suddenly blush when I realized the foolishness of something I claimed?
“Pride cometh before a fall,” my mother often quoted. I was never humble enough to ask what that really meant.
If we are intent in showing off our intelligence to the point that we constantly inject our opinions into conversations and correct others on theirs, we are going to say a lot of things that are pointless at best and possibly untrue.
If we always dominate discussions, we can create a miasma of dubious information that others couldn’t sort through even if they wanted to.
The most fascinating people — those who have provoked me to question and wonder — have invariably been the ones who seem quiet. They are the ones who listen intently and then choose their words carefully, with no affinity to hearing themselves speak.
This is probably an interesting person. This I do know.
Roger Marolt hopes to stop going to the “well” too often. Email him at email@example.com.