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Humility has died. It was buried six feet under a long time ago. Everyone I know is sure of everything. And when they say they are not sure they say that is what makes them great. So if humility is gone have we lost anything, is the question we must ask ourselves. I must confess I miss humility. I long for the days of college and seminary when issues could be talked about as questions to be studied and not sides to defend. I remember the days of after graduation from seminary and receiving gifts of money and going to the bookstore and buying Hans Kung’s book Does God Exist? My wife looked at me and said we struggled through seminary all these years and the first book you buy is Does God Exist? I think we need a refund.
But why did humility die? Did our faith grow strong and we had no more questions? Did our arteries harden and we could not think of questions anymore? Had we discovered all the answers? Or did we forget to show humility before the great questions of life? I have learned two things in life that keep me humble. There is way more to know than I will ever know and the corollary to that is what I know is flavored from my perspective and life’s circumstances.
I have also learned some things I was sure of last week were wrong (children, good friends, and wives help with this knowledge). Now rest assure I am quite confident in my point of view as anyone who knows me can testify. But I try to always crack the door open to change, being wrong, or not having a full understanding of something. Gandhian philosophy says that we each have our truth and we discover the Truth when we dialogue with each other. This is the way of humility: we recognize that truth is found in others and we have only part of the story.
The problem comes when we encounter the over-believer who cannot be wrong. While they share their uncontestable viewpoint you lose the argument because you are willing to give. I have literally been in a heated discussion and to calm the heat have said I may not understand everything. And the reply was No you do not! You know I am right and you are wrong. At that time I realized winning was the most important thing to them. I have realized at this moment I cannot be heard. So I will try to get them to accept some small point (sometimes this happens and sometimes not) and then I move on. I have not given in I have moved on. This can be unsettling to them and yourself. They want victory and you have not given it to them. You feel uncomfortable because you are convinced you are right and now you must humble yourself and move on. A good retreat lets both of you return to the field on another day when maybe winning is not so important. But to stay on that battlefield may mean blood will be shed.
Humility is shattered when we do the humble brag, name drop, always want to sit in the chair of honor, or coyly demand we be recognized for our wisdom or some other desired trait. We all come into the world as narcisstic babies crying, demanding attention and our desires regardless of where and when we find ourselves. This primal cry or urge never completely leaves us. We may tend it and show some mastery but the least out of balance our lives get it can take control. And this is humility recognizing this primal selfishness that lives in each of us. To be sure selfishness helps the baby survive but at some point we need to discern is this the time and place and not let the primal scream control us.
All of religion tries to assert that humility is necessary for good relationships with the universe and others with any luck if we can show humility throughout our lives it will be said to be buried with us when we die. Because all the things we leave behind will be a testimonial to a life lived with grace, love and substance and our greatness will be recognized.