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Intellectual bravery

The process of learning about and appreciating the world is guided by two principles:

  1. The free and fair exchange of ideas
  2. The free and fair consideration of ideas

Free meaning there are minimal barriers.

Fair meaning the exchange and consideration of ideas is driven by genuine motivates as opposed to ulterior or malevolent ones.

The ability to apply these principles can be broadly described as intellectual bravery.

To the extent that expanding the possibilities of your development and journey through life matter, intellectual bravery is one of the most valuable skills you can equip yourself with in life.

Interestingly, intellectual bravery appears to be easiest to exercise for those — children in particular — who’ve yet to be indoctrinated into a culture where expressing certain beliefs and admitting what one doesn’t know is met with penalty, stigma, and shame.

In contrast, the more you are exposed to this culture through your work, your team, your household, your friend groups, and even the books and films that you watch and read, the harder it can be to freely share what is on your mind and openly consider new ideas.

It’s unlikely that a culture of subduing intellectual bravery can be changed overnight and it’s not exactly practical or desirable to try to swap jobs, households or friend groups.

A more prudent and practical thing to recognize is that there will always be forces at play that discourage intellectual bravery, and a large part of being intellectually brave is resolving to think independently anyways.

To that end, a good first step to becoming more intellectually brave would be to simply remind yourself that you are capable of thinking, acting, and expressing yourself independently.

And also understand that being intellectual brave isn’t some elusive state but rather something happens the instant you say what is on your mind, you openly admit to what you do not know or fully understand, you defend the ideas you believe in, you update your views in response to learning about ideas that make more sense, and you reject old beliefs that no longer make sense.

Much like learning how to ride a bike or play an instrument, being intellectually brave can be challenging at first but eventually becomes second-nature with repetition:

It turns from brief and occasional periods of illumination, to something you’re able to consistently witness, find joy, empowerment, and insight in, and rely on to fully and freely appreciate the infinite expanse of life that is awaiting your discovery.



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William Liao

William Liao

Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (ephemera.photography)