What Is Intellectual Humility? (Hint: More People Probably Need It)

intellectual humility cat

You know those people who are always right? (In their heads, at least.) The ones who refuse to budge on their opinions or consider alternate ideas? Annoying, right? Those people are seriously lacking intellectual humility, or the understanding—and acceptance—that not everything you believe to be true is an absolute truth. Below, learn why it’s such a crucial skill to have (and maintain), plus how it can impact your personal relationships, career and more, according to Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC.

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What is intellectual humility?

According to Fedrick, “Intellectual humility is the understanding and acceptance that not everything you believe to be true is an absolute truth. It is the ability and willingness to allow your beliefs and opinions to be challenged and respecting that alternative truths might exist.” She explains that it’s largely about being curious and inquisitive about your own ideas, beliefs and opinions. As for what it’s not, Fedrick notes, “Intellectual humility is not about being insecure or lacking confidence in your convictions, but rather about being confident enough to explore and consider other perspectives, without feeling the need to become defensive or self-righteous regarding your own.”

Why is intellectual humility important?

It’s pretty simple, actually: Intellectual humility, and the openness and curiosity that come with it, allows us to learn, grow and evolve into our best selves. “It is important to our personal growth because it gives us the opportunity to explore and consider various ideas and viewpoints that might expand and enhance our own beliefs and worldviews,” Fedrick explains. “Intellectual humility is also important for having a growth mindset about life, meaning you are open to exploring and accepting that other perspectives exist outside of your own, and furthermore working to determine what you can learn from these other perspectives.” Unsurprisingly, Fedrick tells us that intellectual humility is also important for building and maintaining healthy relationships, as it lets you demonstrate that you’re open and accepting of other views—even if they differ from your own. A third benefit? Fedrick says, “It is also crucial for innovation and creativity because if we don’t allow ourselves to consider that other possibilities exist, we inhibit growth, knowledge and problem-solving abilities from forming and expanding.”

How do you grow intellectual humility?

Since we’ve established how important a skill intellectual humility is, how can we ensure we’re using it in our day-to-day life? Fedrick tells us it’s developed first through self-awareness, including an awareness of your own beliefs, opinions and biases and where they stem from. She explains, “Many people take their beliefs and worldviews as truths without stopping to consider where these beliefs came from, what factors have influenced them and why they carry so much power. When we pause to consider that all beliefs and opinions have been created and developed from outside influences, we can stop being as attached to the belief in and of itself, and instead, consider how this belief is benefiting us and thus why we are holding on to it so tightly.”

Another way to do this is by making sure we’re exposing ourselves to new and different insights, opinions and perspectives (and going into these situations with an open mind). Still, Fedrick urges, “It is crucial to note that just because we are open and accepting that other truths might exist, this does not take away from our own beliefs or make them wrong; it simply means we are willing and capable of accepting that we don’t know everything, and we can hold space for the possibility that other truths can also exist.”

As Fedrick concludes, “Growing intellectual humility requires self-awareness, others-awareness, vulnerability and genuine open-mindedness.” Noted.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...