When the Oracle of Delphi declared Socrates as the wisest man on earth, Socrates’ response became one of his most famous quotes. He said, “I know one thing – that I know nothing.” Socrates was actually the wisest man at that time, then why did he say – ‘I know nothing’? Isn’t it a paradox? Open-mindedness In fact, Socrates was a self-awakened person. He was aware of knowledge’s infinite vastness and depth. He appreciated that even a minuscule domain of knowledge is so profound and immense that we cannot absorb, condense and freeze it. This awareness makes us curious and sceptical and enables us to question conventional wisdom. Thus, we seek scientific and empirical evidence before accepting anything at face value. And even if we, somehow, imbibe vast knowledge, it does have a shelf life. Therefore, we need to repeat and revise it regularly. This process of awareness, curiosity, scepticism, scientific inquiry, repetition and revision fuels the journey of learning and wisdom. Thus, we become lifelong learners. Interestingly, oftentimes, what we receive is not knowledge but just a deluge of information through news, television, internet and other sources. Such information is fleeting. It comes and fritters away soon. We have limited capacity to strain, soak and absorb a flood of information and translate it into knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, most of the information we receive is random and cluttered. It creates ambiguity and slows our capacity to appreciate it rationally. It hacks our mind and numbs our decisions. Socrates was a humble man too. He knew that knowledge isn’t a small coin that can be secured in the pocket forever. Humility fires our love of learning and makes us an open minded person. It helps us to listen to the other point of view and develop perspective. For Socrates, perspective was an important pillar of wisdom. It is a unique way of looking at various issues. A perspective is neither right nor wrong; it empowers us to understand someone on the basis of her context and to not judge anyone according to our whims and fancies. Therefore, Socrates didn’t view life as black or white. For him, it was nuanced with different shades of grey. Many years later, F Scott Fitzgerald echoed similar views on perspective when he said, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” But how do we appreciate two opposite ideas and still have our own perspective? It seems difficult but actually it’s not. If we have an open-minded approach and are ready to listen to the other point of view, we can develop an appreciative view of any issue. Willingness to learn from others and change our opinion – if we find others’ outlook more interesting and compelling – is key to developing a great perspective. However, developing perspective also requires unlearning. For unlearning, we need to assess our skills and strengths objectively and change them if they are misfits in the relevant environment.
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