Critical thinking and humility are the seeds of wisdom.
It’s a funny thing that so many people have misunderstood the lyrics to the classic Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze. No, he wasn’t talking about kissing someone. “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” are of course the correct lyrics. If you’ve never heard that incorrect interpretation before, don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing it every time you hear the song from now on. When I was a kid I misunderstood the lyrics to Steve Winwood’s song “Higher Love” and 30 years later I still find myself singing “bring me a pile of love” every time I hear it. Even though I know that what I’m singing is wrong, I still do it. It takes effort to correct myself.
The same is true for so many other things in life. Experiences, ideas and strategies become so ingrained in us that changing them takes real effort, even if we know they need changed. It’s this tendency that makes critical thinking such an important skill to develop, and humility an important trait to cultivate. To improve at anything, we have to be willing to question what we think we know. It’s this very willingness to think critically that serves as the seed for growing wisdom. To gain wisdom requires thought and humility. It means accepting that, at the very least, we might be wrong.
Unfortunately for many people that’s simply too difficult a task. “The invisible gorilla” experiment has become relatively well known for demonstrating how fixated humans can become fixated on a single factor while missing out on the bigger picture. In the experiment a viewer watches a video of six people, three of whom are in white shirts and three in black shirts as they pass basketballs between each other. While watching, the viewer must keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. In the midst of this, someone in a gorilla suit saunters into the middle of the action, faces the camera, thumps their chest and then leaves. The costumed actor spends a total of nine seconds on screen. Here’s the kicker: only half of the viewers ever actually see the gorilla! You can watch the video here.
The lesson in all of this is that very often we don’t see the entire picture. There are billions of human perspectives, why is mine the only correct one? We miss the gorilla’s meandering about in plain sight. Not only do we hear “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, we embrace the error and sing along with it anyway! Without thought and effort, we keep making the same mistakes.
The longer we’ve lived with a certain set of beliefs, the harder they are to think about in new ways. And, if we can’t think about them we certainly won’t be able to change the ones that ought to be changed. Don’t get me wrong, convictions can be a very good thing. Having a specific set of beliefs to guide our lives provides direction and comfort. What I’m suggesting is that developing the ability to critically think through them is a major factor in personal growth because it forces us to consider alternative perspectives.
Here’s a challenge: over the course of the next week try and force yourself to understand a perspective that’s counter to your own. Try and truly understand it. You may very well find that your opinion doesn’t change and that’s perfectly ok! But, going through the practice of critically thinking through it should produce a greater degree of empathy for others and a better understanding of why you hold the opinion you hold. You’ll be wiser for it.
Now, I’ll leave you to ponder. In the meantime, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.