Time for Introspection
It’s a common mistake and one that the majority of us are prone to making in one setting or another: the trap of expertise and, even worse, believing that we’re smarter than we think we are or even smarter than the people around us. In this post I’m going to focus on the trap of thinking that we’re smarter than the people around us. In a later post I’ll focus on the trap of expertise.
Foolishness vs. Wisdom
This Buddhist teaching is a good reminder of how imbecilic it is to not recognize that you can learn from virtually anyone around you, and it’s likely that at different points in your life you’ll associate with truly wise people from whom you can learn a great deal (if you’re willing).
- The fool who knows his foolishness, is wise at least so far. But a fool who thinks himself wise, he is called a fool indeed.
- If a fool be associated with a wise man even all his life, he will perceive the truth as little as a spoon perceives the taste of soup.
- If an intelligent man be associated for one minute with a wise man, he will soon perceive the truth, as the tongue perceives the taste of soup.
(Dhammapada, a collection of verses; being one of the canonical books of the Buddhists, Chapter V, vs 63-65)
Even hermit-wannabes like me associate with people all the time. Take a moment to think back to people in your past that you’ve either worked with, had as teachers in school or at a church, or lived near. Who were those that were wise and from whom you did, or should have, learned from? Take note:
- If you can’t think of anyone like that — you’re a fool and you don’t know it (or at least you didn’t until right now).
- If you can’t think of anyone like that — not only are you a fool, but there’s no way you perceive real truth just like a spoon cannot taste the soup it’s being dipped in.
- If you can think of one person, it’s likely that you can think of a number of them — you’re smart and can appreciate and learn from those people.
While I wouldn’t describe myself as smart or wise, I’ve been blessed to have associated with many wise people. Most were not people that the secular world would recognize as anything special:
- My eighth-grade gym teacher. This was a guy who spent his whole career teaching gym to 13 and 14-year-olds. But in the relatively short time I spent with him he taught me two vital things: 1) I could push my body harder than I ever thought possible; 2) a little self-confidence can go a long way.
- The dairyman I worked for during high school. Among the many things I learned from him, these stand out:
- Morning, the earlier the better, is the most productive time of the day.
- Hard work and solitude are important for a quiet mind and peaceful heart.
- It’s vital for survival to respect heavy machinery.
- Except in the most solemn situations, a little lightheartedness goes a long way.
- My paternal grandparents:
- Hard work is rewarding in and of itself. It’s very zen. Dig a hole, fill it up. Or with them it would have been weed the garden, herd and feed the sheep, haul some hay, repeat.
- Even when working hard, it’s important to take a break now and then, let time slow down, and enjoy the moment.
- Other factors or actors only have as much power as you give them. While herding sheep I often had to battle a ewe we called “Old Bell” (so named because she had a bell around her neck). To me she was the orneriest thing I’d ever encountered and since I wasn’t much taller than her she believed herself to have the upper hand anytime we disagreed on where she should be. My grandfather taught me that I wasn’t battling Old Bell in those situations, I was battling my fear (a legit fear, in my 8-year-old mind) of being run over by a cantankerous sheep. And once I trimmed that fear, Old Bell wouldn’t have any power anymore.
I could go on and on.
So take a step back and think about what you think of other people. If you find yourself most often dismissing their opinions, literally bite your tongue and listen to what they have to say. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn.
Dhammapada, a collection of verses; being one of the canonical books of the Buddhists. (n.d.). (F. M. Muller, Trans.)