Smartest Person in the Room

Someone recently said to me about a colleague: “He always thinks that he is the smartest person in the room, and often that is true. The trouble is that when it is not he never knows and never sees how much damage is done.” I wonder how often the same could be said of me, and of us all.

I love the song “Colors of the Wind” from the animated Disney film “Pocahontas”:

You think you own whatever land you land on.

The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim,

But I know every rock and tree and creature

Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

You think the only people who are people

Are the people who look and think like you,

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger

You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.

There is great truth scattered throughout those words, but the idea of walking in the footsteps of a stranger may be the secret to all of us being aware that there are many things we don’t even know that we don’t know.

The media made fun of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he would talk about “unknown unknowns.” There were many reasons he deserved our skepticism, but that phrase is not one of them. We who are well educated and well informed all too often fall victim to our own hubris in assuming we know more than we do, but, as we often say, “There is only one God, and we are not the One.”

Sometimes a little self-doubt is not a bad thing or, perhaps more accurately, more self-awareness. We are limited humans; limited to our own life and experience. Perhaps being mindful of that would let us consider more often that we all have unknown unknowns and that we might do well to proceed with more humble confidence in God rather than just ourselves.

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