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John Templeton Foundation
  • Internet arguments have a terrible reputation, especially when it comes to social media and politics. People often naturally form an echo chamber with similar beliefs, and when those outside it start arguments, it becomes toxic very quickly. 
  • Is there a better way? Science suggests that a good starting point is by practicing intellectual humility. By admitting the possibility that we ourselves could be wrong, we’re able to better evaluate arguments and construct more robust belief systems. 
  • Studies show it also reduces stress and increases happiness. Could more widespread understanding of the role humility plays finally help build a happier internet?

We've all been in arguments. And it wouldn't be an argument if you didn't believe that you were right and they were wrong. But aren't we all wrong sometimes? No one is right about all the things, all the time. Research shows that admitting that we might be wrong can actually help us be better friends, happier people, and more effective advocates for our beliefs. This is called intellectual humility and it's a gift. Not the kind you're born with, but the kind you can give yourself. So why don't we? Why is it so hard to admit that we might be wrong?

In our minds, our ideas, assumptions and experiences weave together to form our picture of the world. So you can see why it's painful to admit that something we believe in is wrong. One tug on the thread and it can feel like our whole sense of self is unraveling. In fact, studies show that our brains actually react to attacks on our beliefs the same way as threats to our physical well-being. Our natural human tendency is to avoid those threats, surround ourselves with people who think just like us. It doesn't matter how smart or well-educated you are, anyone can fall into these traps. But we can break out of these bubbles. Our ideas don't need to limit us. We just need to remember that some of the things we know are wrong or incomplete. It doesn't have to feel like a failure. It can feel like a relief. We can let go of the ideas that were holding us back from growth. This is one of the key features of intellectual humility, that willingness to accept and admit that you might be wrong.

Early research shows that people who practice intellectual humility make more thoughtful decisions, have stronger connections with their friends and partners, and are more tolerant, which could lead to a happier life. We live in a time where there's pressure to appear like you're always right, but recognizing and incompleteness in our knowledge, isn't weakness or ignorance, it's the opposite. It turns every day into an opportunity to learn and grow.In fact, people who practice intellectual humility are shown to be better at recognizing persuasive arguments. That means you could be a more effective advocate for your beliefs by allowing them to be challenged.

The scientific method asks us to test every idea, question every theory, and that discipline is responsible for much of the explosive progress that is defined the last two centuries. Intellectual humility is the same principle applied to the individual, constantly refining your understanding of the world and yourself. The person you are now only exists because the person you were, was willing to grow into something new. Intellectual humility is that willingness. It allows us to constantly search through our understanding of the world, and bit by bit, make it better.