Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Learning Humility

 One of the greatest struggles of my life - especially in the last 10 years - is learning humility.

There are two kinds of proud people in life.  The first variety are those whom are proud and know and act like it.  The second kind are those who are proud but do not act like it, veiling their pride behind a veneer of quiet and self-retirement.  

I fall into the second category.  I know I fall into the second category because proud people really annoy me and, to quote some wise person, "What we most despise in others is what we recognize in ourselves".

Timidity is the step-sister of humility, often disguising pride under an appearance of not being proud.  But it is not so - too often my own timidity is just my own fear of those who are involved in the conversation or situation and, upon their departure, my own pride will immediately re-assert itself.

Humility - true humility - is something which our society values in others, but not in ourselves.  Our society has so structured itself that those who are leaders expect those under them to be humble in their acceptance of their words, opinions, and actions without any expectation or acceptance that they themselves should demonstrate the same qualities.  Not surprising I suppose, in a society which above all glorifies the self in terms of how much attention one can draw.

Humility, it seems, is the opposite of the narcissist as well as prideful. 

My own pride seems to have known no bounds in that it pretty much encompassed every portion of my life - in some way I was as smart, as educated, as attractive (insert large "guffaw" here), as relevant, as funny - if not more so - than everyone I encountered.  Even if I was too timid to put myself forward as such.  

The great thing about God is that He loves to work with such people.  And by "work", I mean let them fall on their face again and again (and again) until they finally start to pay attention.

I have said things in ignorance -and been intellectual destroyed for them, as I should have been.  I have made decision and had them go completely wrong because I knew better than those that would have done the research prior to making them. I have presented myself as the obvious choice for a role or position when in point of fact I not (and might never be).  I have acted boldly when tact would have suggested otherwise because people act boldly - and boldly failed.

If pride is the emotional equivalent of self-immolation, I have set myself on fire a thousand thousand times.

At some point, of course, we are forced to take stock of precisely where we are in the state of our lives.  Some people double down, believing that they have simply "done it wrong" up to that point.  The others of us perhaps begin to question if our belief in ourselves were justified in the way we believed them to be.

It is then, perhaps, that we begin to address humility.

In my experience, perhaps what has helped me more than anything else in this regard is the practice of Iaijutsu.  Performing something time after time, feeling like one has "got" it only to find that there are a plethora of other things to address, will wear down that sense of infallibility and "personal greatness" over time.  Accepting that something is a lifetime challenge - and something that you ultimately never master although you can get closer - will change a person, given long enough.

For those that are believers, First Peter 5:5-7  says "Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for as it says 'God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." I used to separate those two concepts in my mind - Humble myself, casting all my cares upon God - as separate and unconnected events.  But I have realized that they are in fact connected:  How much of our pride derives from the fact that we believe that we must take care of everything ourselves, and that even if we do believe in God, we do not believe we can do as well as He can?  

For those that are not believers, I think the question, slightly altered, still stands:  How much of our pride derives from the fact that we are so certain that we know better than anyone else and cannot accept or believe that in some way or shape, we are not the measure of all things?

In writing this, of course, I leave myself open to all the examples of people who have acted humbly and been mistreated horribly, or undergone experiences with others who expressed false humility, or those that thought that being humble means being a doormat for everyone.  The first two are failures of human interaction and not what humility is meant to be experienced as; the last is simply another misinterpretation of humility by ourselves or others to either serve some internal need in us or others.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gives what I have always considered to be the best and most meaningful definition of practical humility:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”


12 comments:

  1. "Of all the characteristics I possess, my humility is what I'm most proud of." "Show me a self-made man, and I will show you the product of unskilled labor."

    There are things I won't ask God to do. He has given some things to us already. Fruit of the Spirit leaps to mind. If I have that already, then exercise is what I really need. So asking God for patience is really asking for opportunities to develop what He has given. I learned that a long time ago.

    But humility is something we can do. "humble yourself in the sight of Lord, and He will lift you up." So I take the seat farthest away. I help when I'm able. And as you said, pride is a tough nut to crack. "See how humble I am." Ugh, that tough to even write. The less you think about what you do in this regard, the better. Else, it's pride running the show. Really a sticky wicket.

    C.S. Lewis was quite a thinker. He's accurate on this observation.

    "You can always tell a Texan, but you can't tell him much." Growing up here instills a bit of pride too. A metric tonne of it, at least.

    Good food for thought today.

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    1. It is very hard to crack STxAR. I think Lewis would have argued it is one of the hardest.

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  2. I struggle with this all the time and it's a double edged sword. I have been cut with both sides too. There is a fine line between being humble and taking crap off arrogant, awful people. Or settling for less when you don't and shouldn't have to. There is a point where humility becomes a vice, beyond which it becomes a fatal flaw. Without wisdom and courage, humility is basically slavery.

    Hmpffffff. The heavenly virtues all interlock, I suppose. Extending that, I suppose the deadly sins do too. I know in life that there are times where you wind up on the chitty end of the stick and have to take crap off prideful and arrogant people you'd rather not. Too many of us are spending too much time on the wrong end of that stick though, it seems. I will leave my humility setting right where it is for now. But I might crank up the thankfulness a tad. These days a fella has to take whatever happiness he can from wherever he finds it.

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    1. Hey Glen. There is a word in Ephesians: meekness. We read that doormat, but the original meaning is "strength under control." Like a stallion trained to obey the reigns. It's capable of massive damage, but won't release it for just any provocation.

      WWJD? He told me to sell my coat and buy a sword. He made a whip and ran folks off at least twice. And He was called meek and lowly then. Stood up to the vichy government of the day and told them they were worthless and fake. Told me to take a slap or two in the face, but those aren't usually fatal. So, I'll consider taking an insult, but if you get dangerous, we are on a different chapter and verse now.

      Modern Christianity has become 'estrogen-ized'. It's soy boy religiosity for the most part now. We need some sho-nuf combat Christians. I may be a civilized man, but I practice martial Christianity. And I think I need to be a bit more deliberate in that going forward.

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    2. Jesus did what was right, STxAR. He had a moral map and compass with waypoints and landmarks and coordinates set by God. In contrast all I have are the stars to steer by - and I can’t see them on cloudy nights. There are lots of people with even less these days. Most folks, in fact.

      Does being humble mean tolerating that which isn’t right?

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    3. Part of Christianity that isn't talked about much is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. We are promised that He will remind us of what Jesus taught, and will empower us to follow it correctly. One verse that really puts it all out there is "Work out your own salvation... knowing this, that it is God working IN YOU, both to will and do of God's good pleasure." And that is it in a nutshell. IF I am reading God's Word, and IF I am obedient to what it says, THEN I can trust that God will change my will into His will, and also work through me to do it. That's the whole by faith thing in the Bible. And He came to give you what He has. That same map, compass and landmark.

      Put up with what isn't right? No. My thinking goes like this:

      If I can change it I will. Example: twice I've pulled women out of abuse and got them to family that would care for them. I had the power to do that, and waiting on the 'authorities' would have been dangerous. I acted quickly and quietly. Because it was the right thing to do, and I was able to do it.

      If I can influence others, I will: I have been involved in teaching and counseling to help folks see what the Bible says regarding their family / personal issues, and help them do what it says.

      If I can't make a difference, I'm asking God to move in and make it right: Distance is usually what keeps me from helping. So, I ask God to intervene. And I've seen Him work near impossible things.

      Sorry to hijack the comments but this is what I've learned and it works, in my experience.

      This day and age, and my infirmities, I ask God to get involved more than ever. But if I need to help and can, I will.

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    4. Glen and STxAR - I do not much add to add to your conversation here, other than to add with STxAR, when faced with the question of being humble tolerating wrong, that one would pretty firmly say that is not what Jesus was about. Sometimes He had a whip of cords, sometimes He had words - and ultimately in His humility He submitted to a humiliating death, only to arise victoriously three days later.

      But I do not think one could ever argue Christ tolerated wrong in His humility and humanity.

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    5. You are not wrong in any of that STxAR and I would never mean to imply you were. But in your cases there is a clear line between right and wrong.

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  3. I'm pretty sure most would consider me pretty humble. Even when I know I'm right, I leave the door open of other interpretations simply because of the element of time has a way of changing things. What was deemed right 100 years ago is not necessarily considered right today and what we consider right today might not be right 100 years from now. Things change. The hard part is sometimes opening up the mind enough to see those changes occurring before you get burnt by someone.

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    1. Ed, it does - except we always run the risk of abandoned actual good in the name of what is consider "right" by modern standards. I certainly do not have all the answers, but worry that always following the ever shifting modern definition of right leads to where everything is allowed because nothing can be forbidden.

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  4. Every time (and I mean every single time) I lead with Pride, I get a (sometimes not gentle) nudge to not be full of myself.

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    1. John, the times I have done so it is usually an epic - and do mean epic - smack down, apparently because I only learn these sorts of things when I am face down in the mud.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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