If all fools wore white caps, we should seem a flock of geese.George Herbert, “Proverbs” in The complete English Works, 272.
I love this one–notice how the sage includes himself: “we should seem a flock of geese.” The wise know a little secret: we’re all fools. That is, we are vastly limited, small, and–no matter how great our learning or experience–we still stumble and trip, failing to remember, failing to act according to what we know is good and true, failing….
And yet, we arrogantly strut around. We sneer down our noses. We gossip and criticize from what feels like certainty, certainly the high moral ground.
This is not to say that there’s no such thing as the high moral ground. Or true and attainable knowledge. This is not to belittle the value of education or experience in attaining true wisdom.
It is to say–that the truly wise are also growing in humility–which means they continue to keep in their moral landscape the fact of their infinitesimal smallness, their own fallibility, and the necessity of listening to others for their wisdom, no matter how small.
So, between this paradox–of high esteem of learning, expertise, competence, on the one hand, and a humble frame on the other, I think we need examples. And they exist. Your favorite doctor is probably your favorite because she’s a wise healer, but also listens to you when it comes to your health history and your plan of care. Your favorite teacher probably had great learning, but amid all their insight, still took time to know your name, care about your life, and truly acknowledge when you taught them something.
We have fictional characters who display this humble wisdom too: The Children of Narnia, The heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
But our best example, of course, is Our Lord. King of the Universe, yet Washer of Feet.
We’re all fools. Let us be His fools.
Go back to Socrates: “Know thyself.” For Socrates, there are only two kinds of people: the wise, who know they are fools; and fools, who think they are wise. Similarly, for Christ and all the prophets, there are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners; and sinners, who think they are saints. Which are you?”Peter Kreeft