Balancing arrogance and self-awareness

It takes humility to learn. We have to admit that we don’t know a thing before we can seek to know it, before we can allow ourselves to learn it.

But it also takes something else, something opposite. It takes something like arrogance.

It takes something like arrogance to be able to try to learn when we start out knowing so little and when there is an overwhelming, impossible amount of knowledge we could learn, when we don’t know how to learn most kinds of knowledge and when we have no way of knowing what knowledge is most urgent for us to focus on first.

It would be very easy to leave that job to others to tackle, to those with more natural talent and more drive and with better circumstances for studying. That’s what most of us do, after a point.

I suspect that the problem for most of us is that we have too much of the bad kind of arrogance. We think we understand far more than we do. We have no reason to want to learn.

It’s once we’ve begun to learn some of the good kind of humility that we get stuck on the bad kind of humility. We realize how far beyond us is the task of actually learning the many things we think are worth knowing.

The right kind of arrogance is measured. I’m not going to figure everything out today, or this year, or even this decade. To get anywhere near the level of knowledge I’d like, in the variety of fields that are important to me, will be the work of many, many years, especially considering how many hours of every day have to go to other things. Even if we try, we might not succeed. But if we don’t try, we’ll definitely fail, and if we do try and end up failing, even our failure will be far more splendid than anything else we could have spent our time on.

That is the assurance that underlies the right kind of arrogance.

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