Thursday, March 24, 2011

Humility as knowledge

Tonight in our "Culture and Health" class, we discussed the meaning of humility in the lives of scholars, about how without humility, we become the "frog in the well" who defines her/his lifeworld from the boundaries of the well. To this frog in the well, the well is the best place in the world because it offers democracy, freedom, liberty, modern medicine, scientific progress and everything Western. Also, to the frog in the well, other cultures are unenlightened and need to be saved. That the frog itself might be in need for enlightenment does not ever cross the frog because she/he is content with the messages of cultural chauvinism that have been fed to her/him since childhood.

That other cultures and ways of knowing have something valuable to offer, that "others" whom we have been trained to construct as primitive have invaluable life lessons and knowledge to educate us, that our so called civilized practices might be most fundamentally uncivilized: these are all things that come with the openness to being humble and the quality of being open to reflecting upon one's own positionality. In imagining a polymorphic worldview that is built upon dialogues among very different and often contradictory worldviews, the quality of humility lies at the heart of what we do in CCA. To do CCA well, and this hopefully moves toward engaging your question Abigail, one has to have the fundamental capacity to stand corrected, to be proven wrong, and to stand up corageously to the spirit of criticism.

CCA is most fundamentally about learning the dignity to be humble with our knowledge and to continually dwell in the boundary spaces that point toward the limits of what we know, and the limits of the methods through which we know what we know.


Titi said...

This reminds me of Airhihenbuwa's byline: "be comfortable with being uncomfortable." The other 2 pillars that should stand next to humility is honesty and hunger. Honesty to admit I don't know as much as I think I know, and hunger to want to know more, to want to see the world through the eyes of the designated 'primitive' person.

Mohan J. Dutta said...

Hi Titi, Thanks for reminding me of Collins. His quote about being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a beautiful one. It does remind me of this idea that knowledge is often created in these spaces of uncertainty that are opened up only through the acknowledgement of how little we actually know. So, what is very intersting in all of this is how so much work gets carried out in a framework just opoposite of this idea, exhorting academics to stick to narrow models and well-trodden pathways that would allow us to do what we already do.