Humility

Jane Austen wasn’t a great fan of humility. She felt it a guise of deceit and was quite cynical when it appeared. In her studies of human nature humility was always a path to betrayal. Dickens felt the same, manifested in his character Mr. Uriah Heep, in David Copperfield. Both of these authors, who had fine moments in other ways, are misguided – for humility is not always false; it is one of humanity’s greatest traits. Eric Gibson, an editor for the Wall Street Journal, once wrote ‘Anonymity is the truest expression of altruism.’ Self effacing humility is perhaps our best expression of this, total anonymity is nearly impossible, given current technology.
Humility is an expression of intrinsic self worth. As such it is nearly always associated with religion. Perhaps this is why the likes of Austen and Dickens are suspicious of it, casting its lot with the general hypocrisy of religion, which they would have experienced all around them. It is unfortunate that the Catholic religion link humility to temperance and denial. For the Catholic, to be humble was to recognise ones own abasement and subject themselves to the whim of God. With this interpretation a secular man can not humble.
I disagree. I see evidence of humility all around me. For me humility is a moral agent’s proper perspective of himself. When someone argues ‘it is ok to blow your own trumpet’ I am immediately wakened to what their true motive might be. Firstly this person truly believes the achievement in question to be the sole result of their own ambition and drive. They lack an understanding of the fickleness of life. Yet, undesirable as this may be, it is an issue confused by the excesses of self confidence. Our world is geared towards rewarding the confident; we give them the best jobs; we bow to their greater ideas; we subject ourselves to their leadership. The world sees the humble man as the weak man.
But in order to be humble, one has something to be humble off. And given the necessity for their participation, the humble man will participate. And he will do it well.

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One thought on “Humility

  1. Richard William Posner

    As with with everything having to do with abstract thinking, the perception of humility is very subjective. Eye of the beholder and all that relativistic stuff.

    That said, I agree with your objective evaluation of a subjective phenomenon.

    Reply

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