The first step to living wisely is to relinquish self-conceit.
See the delusional folly in being a nervous know-it-all whose giddy mind is always prattling on about its knee-jerk impressions of events and other people, forcing current experiences into previously formed categories: “Oh yes, this thing here is just like such and such.”
Behold the world fresh — as it is, on its own terms — through the eyes of a beginner. To know that you do not know and to be willing to admit that you do not know without sheepishly apologizing is a real strength and sets the stage for learning and progress in any endeavor.
The wisest among us appreciate the natural limits of our knowledge and have the mettle to preserve their naiveté. They understand how little all of us really know about anything. There is no such thing as conclusive, once-and-for-all knowledge. The wise do not confuse information or data, however prodigious or cleverly deployed, with comprehensive knowledge or transcendent wisdom. They say things like “Hmmm” or “Is that so!” a lot. Once you realize how little we do know, you are not so easily duped by fast-talkers, splashy glad-hander, and demagogues. Spirited curiosity is an emblem of the flourishing life.
Arrogance is the banal mask for cowardice; but far more important, it is the most potent impediment to the flourishing life. Clear thinking and self-importance cannot logically coexist. Humanity has no inherent pecking order, despite outward appearances. Everyone in this world is important. If you really want peace of mind and success in your endeavors, forego self-importance.
Conceit is an iron gate that admits no new knowledge, no expansive possibilities, nor constructive ideas. Indulging in excessive pride in your own knowledge, abilities, or experiences and attempting to take on more power or authority than is your due is fatal. Such preening not only alienates others, since an overbearing lout is suffocating to be around but also leads to complacency, precluding a change in a wholesome direction. You keep running around in the same familiar circles; you get caught in the same sticky webs. Nothing novel or festive every happens.
To do anything well you must have the humility to bumble around a bit, to follow your nose, to get lost, to goof. Have the courage to try an undertaking and possibly do it poorly Unremarkable lives are marked by fear of not looking capable when trying something new.
New experiences are meant to deepen our lives and advance us to new levels of competence; they are not meant to be used by the self-important as fodder for shoring up their previously adopted views and conclusions.
Important knowledge and personal guidance dwell in unexpected places. If you wish to see them and avail yourself of them when you come upon them, then guard yourself lest you become vainglorious and uncritically smug.
The legitimate glow of satisfaction at accomplishing a hard-won worthy goal should not be confused with arrogance, which is characterized by self-preoccupation and lack of interest in the feelings or affairs of others.
The Art of Living
By Epictetus, Translated by Sharon Lebell