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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Intellectual Humility and Listening

HUMILITY - The quality or condition of being humble; imitate Jesus and Socrates. [Humility week begins here. Click for this week's Bliss Initiatives.]

Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one's viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs.     From

An aspect of humility that I haven't covered so far is that of Intellectual Humility. This area actually partners very well with one of my other Bliss virtues, that of Inquiry. Recognizing that we don't know everything and that our particular point of view can actually keep us from seeing all aspects of things can be very important and even a little freeing.

Earth teach me caring…as the mother who secures her young

In my early thirties I was shocked to find out how pervasive and limiting my lack of humility really was. I was participating in The Landmark Education Forum and I was introduced to the concept of "my listening" and the effect it was having on all of my relationships, particularly with my mom. I learned that I approached almost every interaction with her already KNOWING how she was going to react. As you may have guessed my bias was not a flattering one and because of this we had a very argumentative relationship. I learned that I actually listened for things to disagree with and it really didn't matter what my mom was trying to tell me, listening that way allowed little room for anything but a contentious interaction.

I would love to report that I am a totally changed woman and that I have changed all my interactions with my mother but of course that wouldn't be the truth. I still struggle with the pervasiveness of believing I already KNOW how things are but when ever I can give that up I allow for something else.

Having my own child also helped me to try on a different point of view regarding my mom. When I first held my little girl I couldn't help but think that my mom had done the very same thing and very likely had a lot of the same thoughts and dreams, like wanting only the best for our child. What I had come to see as controlling and annoying was really my mom's way of loving and trying to protect me. I can't agree with all of her methods but her intention was always the best. 

Now if I approach conversations understanding the intention and not reacting to the style we can have really nice conversations and enjoy being with each other. When I notice myself getting upset with something my mom or anyone else says I try to ask myself, "How are you listening to this?" and invariably I can see where my point of view could actually be getting in the way of hearing anything else. This concept also works well when considering different political or social views and almost without fail there is something more I can learn and doing so makes a huge difference.

Where in your life could you give up KNOWING something and possibly allow for an unexpected outcome?

Next post: Humility Resources

My 13 bliss virtues are 
joy, order, creativity, passion, whimsy, serenity, inquiry, community, 
romance, gratitude, moxie, humility, and surprise.

This week we are studying Humility. Next week it is Surprise.


  1. Wow - I've been "guilty" of this QUITE often, myself. I still tend to do it - just habit,I suppose. I suppose I can change my own knowing in conversations I have inwardly with myself. LOL I know that sounds odd, but perhaps if I anticipate a different outcome from what I'm expecting to happen - I could be pleasantly surprised. :) Theresa

  2. I was guilty of this at work for a long time, but I was able to change to a very large extent. I sometimes wonder whether a couple of big conflicts could have been avoided if I'd set aside what I KNEW. But at the same time, a key person with whom I worked had some VERY wrong and damaging ideas.

  3. Stopped by from WOW this morning. Thank you for this post. It is one my daughter could have written. Hopefully it isn't too late for me to change.

  4. your comments about listening to people in general, and how you interact with your mom in particular really struck a cord with me. i also need to check myself with my mom in particular and others in general. i wish i did a better job it. thanks for the reminder.


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Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues

  • 1. TEMPERANCE - Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • 2. SILENCE - Speak not what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • 3. ORDER - Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • 4. RESOLUTION - Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • 5. FRUGALITY - Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • 6. INDUSTRY - Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • 7. SINCERITY - Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • 8. JUSTICE - Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • 9. MODERATION - Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • 10. CLEANLINESS - Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation.
  • 11. TRANQUILITY - Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • 12. CHASTITY - Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or to the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  • 13. HUMILITY - Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


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