An Educated Guess


By William l. Nichols
When I was a boy I used to think that somewhere out ahead lay a magic moment when one would be grown up and know all the answers. At that point life would be easy: no more doubts, no more uncertainties; in any given situation one would know exactly what to do.
Since then many years have gone by, and the only thing I have really learned is that moment of absolute certainly never comes. Along the way, while looking for the answers I had the pleasure of knowing the late president of Harvard, A. Lawrence Lowell, and some of his salty sayings.
Once, for example, Lowell said, “There is a Harvard man on the wrong side of every question.” It was his way of making the point that each of us is different and that no one can ever be right or know all the answers, all the time. Another of his favorite sayings went this way: “The mark of an educated man is the ability to make a reasoned guess on the basis of insufficient information.” We can infer from this that often when a man is faced with decision it is impossible for him to fill in all the uncertainties. He cannot be sure he has every fact. And so, in deciding, he must guess.

This is precisely the point at which “education” comes in, for true education goes far beyond facts and classrooms. Education also means experience and faith, courage and understanding –and, most of all, the ability to think and act. These are the qualities which translate dead knowledge into living wisdom and make our “guesses” turn out right.

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