Background. Jeff Jacoby starts his column by quoting Oliver Cromwell. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” He ends his column by writing “My resolution for 2009 is to keep Cromwell’s reproach in mind with every column I write.”
Your resolution is an honorable one, and one that other pundits would do well in following. As for myself, it comes quite naturally to me to accept my fallibility. Moreover, one of my favorite way of learning is to state an opinion or conjecture to someone who is more knowledgeable than I am, and then have them explain why I am wrong.
I was once extreme in doubting my own fallibility. In college, I once said to a friend after a week filled with self doubt. “I am doubting every opinion I state.” I then was silent for a few seconds, and followed up with “I wonder if that is true.” Over the years, I have developed more confidence in my ability to make judgments. At the same time, I am keenly aware of the limits of my knowledge, and of my own fallibility.
One of my heroes is Benjamin Franklin. At the Constitutional Convention, he stated his support for signing the new constitution as follows. ” I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others….On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”
Jeff, best wishes in your resolution. I look forward to your columns for the new year. Best regards, Jim