Previously on The Dialogue Venture, we looked at one of the world’s most misunderstood virtues—humility—and how it holds the key to dialogue. In the process, I boiled down humility to two basic claims about the self: 

  1. I’m only one person.
  2. I am one person.

The first helps us see our perspective as one among billions and, therefore, acknowledge that others’ ideas might hold as much truth as our own. The second reveals the utter uniqueness of our own beliefs, values, and perspectives—and how, rightly used, they could create more robust solutions for the issues that face us today.

Nice theory, right? OK, let’s see how it plays out in the real world.

I knew next to nothing about healthcare in 2008, when the latest hue and cry for reform began to take shape. A single-payer plan made a great deal of sense to me at first. But as “only one person”—and an ill-informed one at that—I could see how limited my perspective was.

So I sought out other voices. Republicans spoke of tort reform to reduce exaggerated malpractice suits, interstate commerce between insurers to boost competition and lower costs, triggers to the public option. Democrats talked about requiring health insurers to cover people regardless of pre-existing conditions or catastrophic illness. As I listened, something dawned on me: all these ideas had merit.

I hadn’t heard anyone say that.

And that illustrates the contribution of “I am one person” to dialogue. I don’t know the technical ins and outs of the healthcare system, but I do have an unusual ability to consider both/and solutions. In a world where either/or is the dominant paradigm, that’s a valuable gift.

So in a grand dialogue on healthcare, or any issue, even non-experts like me have a role to play. The more people we bring to the table, the more gifts and perspectives we have at our disposal, and more thoughtful the solutions that arise.

This also makes humility an essential component of social change. What if a robust policy framework arises from our grand dialogue? As “only one person,” I look at the power of the Congress, the complexity of the bureaucracy, the staggering challenge of swaying public opinion, and I despair. But, in “I am one person” mode, I look at my gifts and realize I can write. So I write op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, and missives to individual legislators. At the same time, I see that I need others with expertise in recruiting volunteers, drafting legislation, and lobbying elected officials—so I join with them to wield exponentially more clout than I could by myself.

In other words, humility opens us to power of we.  

Humility calls us to hear everyone. Humility calls us to contribute what we have while realizing its limitations. Humility draws us together to think and act with power. Imagine what might happen if everyone cultivated that kind of humility within themselves.