Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Likutei Moharan I:75) that one's lust to win an argument is not compatible with truth. If one's only desire is to win the debate, he'll do whatever he has to in order to be victorious, including trampling the truth. The person who wants to prove that he's smarter than anyone else will be the ultimate loser. He'll be prepared to forfeit his life, only to prove that he's right!
On the other hand, a truly wise man will always be prepared to acknowledge truth and admit to a mistake. He's happy to correct mistakes, for by doing so, he gets closer to the truth. He doesn't care who shows him the truth, whether a great scholar or a janitor. He's even prepared to withstand insult and mockery in order to find the truth. Oftentimes, he appears to be a meek loser, but he's really the courageous winner as we see in the long run.
Young people frequently make the mistake of disregarding the advice of the older generation. “They're antiquated – what can I learn from them?” The answer is plenty. Stop and listen to what the older person has to say. If you're right, fine. But if the older person's advice is worthwhile, take it! You'll be doing yourself a favor.
The arrogant err in ignoring the advice of those who have attained truth and inner peace, especially when those people are on an ostensibly lower rung on the social ladder. A person can forfeit an entire life of truth and happiness because he's too arrogant to listen to someone else's advice and because he has the lust to be right all the time. That's scary...
Our sages say (Avot 4:1), “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone...” They didn't say that the wise man teaches everyone or knows better than anyone else, or is the one who wins arguments all the time. He who loves wisdom will be happy to obtain wisdom from anyone and everyone, without regard to his own prestige. If the city worker who rides on the back of a garbage truck shares a pearl of wisdom with a truly wise man, the latter will be happy and ever so grateful.
According to our sages, one need not be an intellect with a razor-sharp mind to be called a wise man. Even a simple person can earn the title of “wise man” if he loves truth and wisdom, and is willing to obtain them from anyone. But, if a person is unwilling to learn from someone else, he can't be called wise. Our sages called the wise man he who learns from everyone.
A true wise man knows that everything he encounters during the day, everything he hears and everything he sees, are all messages from Hashem. He will therefore be attentive to what others tell him, without minimizing the importance of a single human. Indeed, as Rebbe Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan I:1), he looks for the Divine wisdom in every creation and in every occurrence. Kind David said (Psalm 199:99), “I have learned from all that teach me.”
The Zohar teaches that any meeting between two people is the product of precise, individual Divine Providence. Sometimes Hashem makes entire upheavals in both the physical and spiritual realms so that a certain meeting can take place. Every encounter between two people can potentially be a lofty tikkun -- a spiritual correction for not only the people who are meeting each other but for the entire world.
Hashem in his mercy has arranged for the clever one to receive some important food for thought from the simple one. But in his arrogance, he made light of him and ignored him. From here we see that in order to be a wise man and learn from everyone, one must first be humble. Where there is no humility, there cannot be true wisdom.