Intellectual Humility

So far, we have talked about cultural humility in two different settings. However, there’s still an aspect of cultural humility which we haven’t talked about in depth: intellectual humility. Cultural and intellectual humility are siblings and the practice of one also leads to the other. Yet, we can still picture intellectual humility as cultural humility’s slightly older brother, but this will be better understood if we talk about what exactly intellectual humility is.

What is it?

Intellectual humility is the understanding of how little we know. This leads to an openness towards new ideas and increased receptiveness to new sources of evidence. Whereas cultural humility leads to openness towards other cultures and ways of being, intellectual humility frames our inability to know everything – even within our own culture. Moreover, intellectually humble people are very likely to learn from people they disagree with. This doesn’t mean that you’ll change your stance after talking with someone you disagree with. What it means is that you’ll understand their point of view better and you’ll broaden your viewpoint.

What obstacles does it have?

The biggest obstacle intellectual humility has is that we’re prone to overestimate how much we know. This is something that would lead us to cling to our own beliefs as the “correct” ones because of how much we believe we already know. However, that’s not all as, for example, those who view intelligence as fixed (the belief that everyone has a set amount of intelligence from their birth) would believe that there’s little point in trying to broaden your horizons. In short, there’s no point in trying to gain more knowledge if you can’t gain more intelligence. Conversely, if we view intelligence as something that can grow and be malleable, we’re more prone to try to learn and be flexible towards our knowledge. This, in turn, would lead us to admit how much we have left to learn which would lead us a larger love for learning and exploring. Further, recognizing that even if we didn’t grow up in an environment that promoted learning, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a habit we can acquire as long as we learn to be curious and keep an open mind.

Other things to take into account.

In order to be successful in our approach to intellectual humility, it’s important to keep in mind our own biases and blind spots. For example, the idea that our own unique life experience can inherently lead us to understand others better. Other examples would be our belief that we’re innately better than others at keeping an open mind or thinking that self-reflexivity comes natural to us. Intellectual humility is something we consciously must strive towards, and that means being aware that we all have different biases. It’s natural to have biases and admitting this can better let us be aware of our own.

What else can we do?

Read, read as much as you can. What’s more, it’s actually healthy for you to own more books that you can read in your lifetime as this will keep you acutely aware of how little you know. Don’t let yourself be discouraged when confronting how much you have left to learn. Instead, try to be excited at the prospect of having a lifetime of learning. If there is more knowledge than you can acquire in a lifetime, that just means that you’ll never reach a limit as to how much you can learn.

Another way of learning is traveling. This way you can actively confront the biases and preconceptions that you have against people from other cultures. Much like with cultural humility, a great way to do this is through volunteer work. This way you’ll be placed outside of your comfort zone as you work one on one with people from a very different background than yours. Furthermore, you’ll also be helping them to expand their knowledge and world view. Just keep in mind that you must be respectful of other people’s points of view. If this sounds like a way for you to practice both intellectual AND cultural humility, why not give Caritas Smile a try? Our program with communities in the Dominican Republic and Honduras will allow you to immerse yourself in a different culture and learn while helping others. You can practice your Spanish and help others learn English or help in one of our many different projects. We can also set up an internship for you or help you gain university credits through service learning. If you contact us, we’ll help tailor your experience from the time you reserve the tickets to your flight back home. If you’re unsure, you can even check our brochure before messaging us directly. We’re here to guide you. The choice is yours!

Talia Velez is a Growth Impact Officer at Caritas Smile, a non-profit service travel program dedicated to making positive impacts and sustainable changes for women and children in developing countries. Having grown up in Mexico, Talia is keenly aware of the day-to-day issues faced by women and children in countries with more economic vulnerability. Visit our site to learn more about Caritas Smile and join us in our mission to help those in need.

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