One of my favorite quotes of comes from the introduction to the Shemonah Peraqim by Maimonides:
“Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.”
Maimonides was an influential twelfth-century rabbi and philosopher. He was already well-respected during his lifetime, and his reputation has only grown in the millennium since. He is now widely considered to be among the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, and he is studied by Jews and non-Jews alike.
One of the things that set Maimonides apart from his contemporaries was his eagerness to study and learn from philosophers outside of Jewish tradition. Even his own work in Jewish philosophy frequently built on ideas originally developed by Greek and Arabic thinkers.
When Maimonides said to “accept the truth from whatever source it comes,” he was justifying his decision to rely on the work of these Greek and Arabic philosophers. Maimonides believed in seeking truth through logic and reason, and he understood that the soundness of an argument did not depend on the argument’s source. Although he drew inspiration from many Jewish texts as well, he had no qualms about casting a wider net in his search for knowledge.
Applying the quote in our lives
Over a millennium later, the direction to “accept the truth from whatever source it comes” remains as relevant as ever. When we search for knowledge, whether it’s in academic settings or our personal lives, many of us have a natural tendency to stick with what we know. We check the same websites every day, watch the same news stations, and read books within just a few genres. This ends up cutting us off from many ideas that we don’t even know we’re missing.
To really “accept the truth from whatever source it comes,” we need to expand our search for knowledge. This means actively branching out what we read, watch, and study in order to expose ourselves to ideas from other cultures and viewpoints. I have a couple examples of how I’ve tried to apply this to my own life.
The first is by expanding my leisure reading. For the past several years, I’ve tracked all of the books that I read. It didn’t take long for me to notice that there was nowhere near as much diversity in the books as I might have hoped. Since then, I’ve actively tried to expand my reading habits, both by reading more by authors from other cultures and by reading more about subjects that I don’t know anything about. Even though I don’t read more books than I used to, I find myself learning way more per book.
The second area of my life where I’ve applied this quote is sobriety. I quit drinking about two years ago, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Part of what allowed me to stay sober was hearing the experiences of other addicts and trying to apply their wisdom to my own life.
It can be difficult to accept wisdom from a person who has run their own life into the ground. The easy response is to be dismissive; to assume that someone who has sunken so low has nothing to offer others. Over the past two years, I’ve found time and again that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually often those who have suffered the most who have the most profound wisdom to offer the rest of us.
It can be harder than it sounds to accept the truth regardless of the source, but the benefits are worth it. It’s something I will continue to strive for in all areas of my life.