On knowing little in a pandemic world

Mark Stephens on the importance of having a posture of humility when thinking and commenting on the coronavirus crisis.

Yesterday, I read more than 5 articles about viruses. I listened to politicians tell me about wage subsidies. I watched TV reporters talk about graphs, immunology tests, and cytokine storms.

I believe I understand most of what they’re saying. But let’s be honest here: I really know very little.

Among the many challenges of a pandemic world is the challenge of thinking.

According to my Facebook and Twitter feed, I have a whole group of friends who have been studying epidemiology without my knowing. They sure are confident in prescribing remedies for something none of us have ever encountered before. Some of these people also seem to have done a PhD on the Spanish Flu and a Masters in economics. They are seemingly incapable of saying something tentatively.

The Christian story understands humans as both finite and fallible, and this includes our minds. Thinking is a difficult practice in the best of times. It becomes no easier in the worst of times. And at moments like our present crisis, a Christian account of humanity guides me towards a posture of humility.

Humility means acknowledging that I am a limited intellect, and capable of error. I know a few things really well, but on most topics I am dumb as a box of hammers. With the seeming exception of talk-back radio hosts, the same goes for all of us. We all know very little about a lot.

We can never just think for ourselves. People do best when we belong to communities that, with humility, learn to think well together. More often than not, that means acknowledging that wisdom is something which comes from beyond us. And for me, it usually means holding my tongue.