“I Know That I Know That I Know”—A Lesson in Intellectual Humility

The greatest leaders of towering wisdom and ability tend to have one thing in common: intellectual humility.

Have you observed this? Leaders who have the right to be proud because of their knowledge, wisdom, and experience tend to be the most intellectually humble. Their humility assures their supremacy. Meanwhile, leaders who have no right to be proud because of their lack of wisdom and inability tend to be intellectually arrogant. Their arrogance assures their mediocrity.

One way to define intellectual humility is the belief that our thinking, beliefs, and worldviews are no better than those of others.

We must exercise intellectual humility as Christian leaders for at least two reasons. First, because it is the right thing to do. Humility is a command from the Bible (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV). Second, because when we don’t, we stop listening, being curious, and growing.

Here is the hard question for you and I: Where do you fall on this spectrum as a leader? Here are some clues to recognize when we are not intellectually humble:

  1. When others give their opinions, a little voice inside our head persistently whispers: “I don’t agree,” or “That’s not right,” or “I can’t believe this person.” These voices lead us to intellectual disaster because we stop considering other possibilities. Better responses to views that oppose our own are:  “I don’t see their perspective,” or “I wonder how they thought of that,” or “I wonder if my views are incorrect.”
  2. When others give a differing opinion, we are quick to stake our claim opposing their point of view instead of listening and going on an investigative journey to understand.
  3. We stand for our convictions, for what we is right. We forget that what is right is our interpretation of truth.

Many years ago I had a friend who told me, “There are things I know that I know that I know.” In some areas he was right; in some he was not. But in all, any matter in which he felt 100% convicted, he determined to himself, “I know that I know that I know.” Therefore, he positioned himself to be unwilling to listen, to see, to analyze, or reconsider. His leadership lacked empathy and wisdom in those areas.

May we never boast that we know that we know that we know. Instead, may we always and in all things be willing to reconsider, unlearn, and relearn. We are human, not God. We are not all-knowing. Humbly embrace this aspect of our humanity.

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