Quote, August 12 2013 — Humility

Historian 1: If it comes to us by mouth, I don’t believe it, because I’m a skeptic!

Historian 2: If it comes from an elite, I don’t believe it, because I’m anti-elitist!

Historian 3: If it comes straight from my own brain, I believe it, because I’m highly intelligent!

– Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the Universe III, page 90, copyright 2002

Added emphasis on the attitude of Historian 3 in Gonick’s fictitious conversation.

It’s always tempting for a person to fall in love with their own ideas. Especially if that person considers themselves to be very smart, or very educated — after all, isn’t that what all those smarts and education proved, that the person who is smart and educated can find The Right Answer?

But we are all human, even those of us who are smart or educated.

And that is one of the things that has come to annoy me the most about so many people who really are quite intelligent and well informed — they lack humility. They get an idea, fall in love with the idea because the idea because the idea is proof of how smart and educated they are, and if you dare question their idea or find fault with their logic, they are incensed. How dare you say they’re not smart???

This one of the reasons I have little interest in hearing about how a person feels, but I am quite interested in hearing about what a person has done.

No matter how smart or educated a person may think they are, reality intrudes quite quickly once a person attempts to do something. Maybe the person really is that intelligent and educated — in which case I’m happy to hear about their successes. And maybe the person didn’t quite reach their goal, in which case I’m still willing to listen to a description of the attempt. Some of the funniest stories I’ve heard are from someone ruefully describing a failed attempt at a grand plan.

But fail or succeed, that person took a chance and did something.

For those interested what Gonick was talking about, the full text of that brief little section at the bottom of page 90 is:

Many elite families in Africa trace their ancestry back to an Arab, a Persian, or some other “white” person, even though the family looks just like the neighbors.

African 1: I am Musa, son of Abdullah, son of Ahmed, son of Ismail, son of Ibrahim the bum of Baghdad!

African 2: You are so very special.

Modern historians suggest the families made up these stories recently as a way of puffing up their status in an era of white supremacy. This is how historians think when they lack documentation.

Historian 1: If it comes to us by mouth, I don’t believe it, because I’m a skeptic!

Historian 2: If it comes from an elite, I don’t believe it, because I’m anti-elitist!

Historian 3: If it comes straight from my own brain, I believe it, because I’m highly intelligent!

Genetics to the rescue: in 1999, scientists studied the DNA of the South African Lemba people, who claim descent from Jews who left Yemen in the 500s. Turns out the Lemba’s story is true . . .

African 3 (holding chemistry flask): Believe us now?

Historians 1, 2 & 3: That’s not paper!!

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