The Courier

We live in a time of competing truths. The pandemic has challenged many of us to sift through the flurry of studies, reports, news articles, opinion pieces, YouTube videos, and the list goes on in an effort to inform ourselves and make the best decisions for our own health, the health of our loved ones, and the health of our neighbours. It is hard to know for sure what the truth is.

But this isn’t the first time people have been faced with this question.  In fact, it comes up all the time, especially in the field of religion.  In our increasingly pluralist society, there is an ever expanding realm of beliefs around us, as immigration moves people around the globe and the quest for a peaceful life, more freedom, or just something new brings us into relationship with people who share sometimes very different beliefs about the intangible questions: is there a god and are they knowable?  Is there a soul inside each of us and is it eternal or temporary?  Are various sacred writings telling us the truth or simply a truth; or are they out-and-out false, myths and legends that were only ever meant to give people comfort in a confusing and complicated world?

The questions themselves can be very divisive, causing rifts between people and forcing some to pick a side.  Humanity has been down these roads before.  And they are dangerous roads because they have often ended in violence.

I am bringing them up today to suggest that they don’t have to go there.  There is a response, an approach if you will to questions like these that can make for peace. That way is the way of humility.  Let me explain.

You may be convinced in your own mind that what you have learned, whether it is about vaccines, disease, or even the existence of a deity and how to know them. And that is great.  Our instinct when we become certain of truth is to then bring a level of judgment to those who disagree. If they are wrong it is because they are ignorant, or not as smart, or stubborn, or some other negative quality that devalues them in our eyes. You can see how that is a dangerous road. But just because your own opinion is fixed and you are satisfied, does not mean you need think less of those who differ from you.  In fact, it is a must-do for people in a civil pluralist society to cultivate humility, for these reasons:

  1. Human beings are limited. None of us have the capacity to know everything. In fact, not only can we not know everything, a lifetime of learning and reading and experimenting will only result in us knowing a miniscule fraction of all there is to know.  For many centuries, even millennia, it was possible for an extremely learned person to know almost everything humanity knew. That’s no longer the case. No library can hold it.  No internet can hold it. We fall short, and we must recognize that lack of knowledge must lead to a certain level of uncertainty.
  2. Others are on a journey to truth the same way we are, but we all take different paths to get there. One need not assume that disagreements are the result of others’ deficiencies.  The same thing could be thought of you.  There is always someone who has read more, investigated more, travelled more, talked to more experts than you.
  3. No matter how certain you are about your own beliefs, you might be wrong. You might be missing some critical piece of information that would change your mind. You might not have investigated other options as thoroughly as you thought. As long as there is room for reasonable doubt about our own beliefs, we must grant others the same respect.

If both sides of an argument grant each other this same respect, that we can both concede we might by our limited minds, bodies, consciousnesses and experiences be wrong about what we know, then there is no need to come to blows over where we differ.  There is no reason to escalate into anger, frustration, vitriol, or even ultimately violence. We can embrace each other as human beings and walk together, and even maybe continue to talk and dialogue as we both attempt to fill in the gaps in our own knowledge.  That journey may convince us that we are right even more.  But it may cause us to change our minds.  This posture, this openness, this reasonable doubt is only found in the virtue of humility.  Humility is truly the most beautiful feature anyone can cultivate.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap