Croskey’s Corner: Humble-ness
When I was young, the movie version of Camelot was popular. I loved the vision and the idealism of King Arthur. I was overwhelmed by Queen Guinevere’s passion and devotion to both Arthur and Sir Lancelot. And I had to admire the righteousness and courage of Lance. All that and a love triangle right out of The Young and the Restless. One of my favorite parts is the scene where filmgoers first meet Lancelot. He is full of enthusiasm for the concept of the Round Table and sure of his abilities to guarantee the success of Arthur’s dream. He tells Arthur – or, rather, sings to Arthur – that he has “never lost in battle” and that “he is pure as the air, with virtue to spare, the Godliest man I know. C’est moi!” He adds that one of his greatest virtues is humility! If you remember, this Godliest man goes on to steal the wife/Queen of his best friend, helps ruin the Round Table experiment, and ends up leading an army against Arthur’s knights. Not so pure. Not so virtuous.
I have dredged up this 40+ year old movie because I believe that the scenario from the Arthurian legend is a typical one: despite our best intentions, sometimes we end up violating our principles and disappointing our friends. Sometimes we betray someone we love and end up alone. Sometimes, we let a lofty ideal obscure what is going on right in front of us and we succumb to jealousy and hate, which sabotages our ideals. In short, Pride keeps us from learning what we need to learn from those we consider as “lesser.”
Pride is the absence of Humility. Expecting that we will never succumb to Pride is about like saying, “Don’t be human.” Indeed, striving for humility may be, as it was for Lance, a trap which is guaranteed to spring on us at our moments of arrogance, entitlement, and feeling superior. Is Humility, then, unattainable?
Part of the problem is, in my “humble” opinion, the word Humility. It is a first cousin of the word “Humiliation.” That is a set-up for embarrassment, for falling off the wagon. If we have pride, we will likely be thrown from our horse and reduced to eating dirt (Ironically, the Latin root, humilis, means, “lowly, small, or common,” and is based on a different word, “humus,” which means “dirt.” ) After the fall, humiliation – ridicule, foolishness, and degradation – will be our lot. Humility therefore seems likely to lock us in to choosing shame to start with.
I prefer “Humble” to “Humility.” Humble conveys the same concept as Humility, of letting go of my prejudices and pride and being open to learning from those people and situations to which I might feel superior. But humble allows us the respected status of student, learning from others. Humility relegates us to some low caste which we may never be able to rise from.
Have you ever known someone who seemed, well…, not your equal? His standards seemed lower than yours. She seemed to settle for less than you ever would. He did sleazy things. In your opinion, you would never stoop so low. You were ready to write her off. Then Providence stepped in. (It may have been Newport. I was never very clear on the geography of those New England towns.) You got entangled with this person. You began to care about him. Maybe she became a friend, or even a soul mate. Different as night and day. Opposites. Natural enemies. Yet somehow you got thrown together and you ended up loving this person and learning from him or her. Darn it! You ended up having to eat your judgments. You had to take back your condemnations. You liked him. Heck maybe you even loved her. This person taught you more about life than you wanted to know, but what you learned was true and right and it stood the test of time. As did your relationship. How were you left feeling after going through all that? I’d call it Humble.
One day, I watched a student walk out of class, say a little jingle (something like, “I’m good! I’m good! I’m really, really good.”) and do a little dance. It reminded me of one of our cherished NFL players celebrating a touchdown catch in the end zone. I did not know what went before this, the context. I knew this kid; she definitely needed and deserved to celebrate any academic accomplishment. But the self-congratulatory song-and-dance bothered me a bit. No harm done. But I hope (wish) she patted her teacher on the back and said thanks for helping me learn; and another pat on the back to her mom who supported her studies. Those might have gotten lost in the self-congratulations. Our culture seems obsessed with the celebration itself as an end. There is Nothing wrong with feeling a sense of accomplishment after working hard. But let’s be sure to Humbly thank the tackle who blocked for us; the teacher who persisted so that we could overcome our test anxiety; the friend whom we misjudged until he taught us worlds and we had to eat crow.
Maybe the hard part of being Humble is that it is so passive. So much of our modern world, and the world of school, asks us to be assertive and aggressive. Being Humble asks us to hang back. It forces us to say to someone we thought of as less: “I am afraid of who you were when you got into trouble. That part of you acted in way that scares me. But, I have Faith that you are made up of some parts I understand and some parts I don’t. So, I’ll wait here, watch you, listen to you, and let the part of you that scares me gradually explain himself.” Or Humble says this: “Sometimes you seem open to letting me try to help you. Sometimes, you seem to want to help me. Sometimes you seem to not want me around. I get scared when I think it’s time to Be There and, instead, I should back off. So, I will wait for time to pass and let you ask for my help when you are ready. I will Humbly tell time by your clock, not mine.” Or, Humble tells us: “Why can’t you make up your mind? Why can’t you fix what is wrong? Oh! I guess you do not see the Way Out yet. It is not that you are running away. It is that you know the only way through is through. I get it now. You are stuck. I just have to wait till you DO see your way out. I hope I am Patient enough and Courageous enough to know where to find you when you do find your way out. “
An institution that I love has a motto that translates: “Make progress without being obnoxious about it.” That’s Humble-ness. It says also that I have my story. I may look messed up to some but I am not as messed up as I might look, nor am I as problem-free as I appear. I have much to be Humble about. But thanks to some luck, some good timing, and a lot of help, I have made some progress. Thanks. To all of my so-called “lessers.” As Lancelot should have sung, “C’est moi! C’est moi! I’m forced to admit. Tis I, I Humbly reply. That man in whom NO marvels can bloom without you! C’est moi! Tis I!”