Humility, curiosity and truth go together. Without humility, staying curious, understanding that we do not know what we do not know, we do not learn. Only by asking – daring to inquire and explore – do we begin to understand we have no monopoly on knowledge, let alone wisdom.
Modern America needs to rediscover that relationship, listen to the past – and each other. We need to hunt the lost path, overgrown by ignorance and closemindedness, to truth’s overlook.
As a boy, certain authors caught my attention – Kenneth Roberts, with his gritty Revolutionary War-era novels, Arundel, Northwest Passage, and Rabble in Arms. With him, science fiction writers, Heinlein’s Door into Summer and Day After Tomorrow, Azimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Herbert’s Dune series. Topping the list was Jack London, Call of the Wild and White Fang.
White Fang is about a young wolf. London brilliantly tracks the cubs’ thinking. Before his eyes open, the cub is curious – as we should be. He wants to know about everything. His surroundings seem to be dark walls – one light one. He wants to touch the light one, but his mother forbids it.
One day, mystified by how his father passes in and out of that white wall, he decides in their absence to touch it. He no sooner does than it attacks him, beats him up badly, leaves him hurt.
When it stops attacking, he considers the world he thought he knew, the four walls, and wonders more about how he could have misjudged that wall. With experience, he learns. On return, his mother picks him up from the bottom of the rocky hill … below their family lair, a cave.
Fittingly, this young wolf is the only cub to survive; his curiosity, grit and a determination to learn and thrive keep him alive. London knew of what he wrote, he knew The Yukon.
The “White Fang lesson” applies as much to us as to that fictional wolf cub – especially when minds keep closing, less curious, less interested in knowing what we do not know, or acknowledging that we do not know what we do not know. We avoid the painful.
Look around, what do you see? Lots of people – especially young and educated, professors and politicians, journalists and prosecutors, opinion leaders – getting lazy. They are not interested in the white wall – hard truth. They seek comfort in the dark walls, regurgitating what they are told, few curious, let alone intrepid.
Journalism is dying, America’s newsrooms filled with a new breed, the non-reporting reporter. Newsrooms are filled with the cheerfully uncurious, content to be ignorant, arrogant, and activist, unwilling to consider in history’s context, if they are wrong. Real life interviews are now gone, replaced by google searches, real life transmuted to social media.
Politicians and lawyers, never paragons of virtue, promote absurd ideas, upending established laws and respect for law, political violence and chicanery, attacking institutions, history, biology.
Like the cubs who died in darkness, never learning to hunt or think for themselves, never daring to risk all and suffer the indignities of being wrong – our nation’s leaders stumble miserably.
You can see it. They prefer the comfort of well-worn ignorance, encouraging others into the dark, evangelizing for false religions – abandoning real faith, fortitude, and falling – to get it right.
As the monk Thomas Merton wrote, “Pride makes us artificial, as humility makes us real.” Now 75 years ago, things were different. His Seven Story Mountain, was a best-seller, featured by Time.
After Merton came C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia. Wrote Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility was the “wardrobe,” through which the curious passed to learn.
Likewise, the American innovator – now decried for his marvelous combustion engine – Henry Ford, talked of curiosity and learning. No philosopher or monk, he knew life. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80 – and anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
So, it really everything turns on humility, curiosity, and seeking truth. Too many modern leaders do not get it. They are incuriousness, no desire for risk or truth through sincere pursuit of it.
In the end, America is “We the People.” We need to stay curious, keep learning, insist leaders re-value humility, show some curiosity, and seek the truth. Unthinking leadership is no leadership.
A sustainable society requires devotion to truth, not making things up for political gain. We must stay focused, curious, hungry, and remember how to hunt for the truth, bring it down, consume it.
That is what the surviving wolf cub did, reflecting Jack London’s own curiosity about life. That is what we must do to stay strong, rally the nation, and reclaim our society. If “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” we need to defend them, find that white wall, and go through it. The truth is not always comfortable; it is sometimes painful. But it is always the truth.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.