“Humility or False Modesty?”


Uriah Heep, a central character in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, prides himself on the extent of his “umbleness.” He is the most “umble” person we are ever likely to meet, he suggests. And we certainly know the people who, in the name of humility, swat away compliments with “it was nothing.” When surveying the remains of a fancy dinner party, we know that it most certainly was “something,” not “nothing.” So is that what humility means today?

The actual virtue of humility challenges us most, I think, in our daily lives. Do we, without priding ourselves endlessly for it, let a car into traffic when we see it waiting for a break? I too often push ahead, determining that it is MY turn to go. Do we recognize that the person ahead of us in line has as much right to customer service as we do? Or do we occasionally huff loudly hoping they will hurry up? Can I realize that someone who votes for someone I disagree with has the same democratic right to her ballot as I do? Not always, that’s for sure.

At the heart of true humility is the virtue of seeing that every single person on the planet has equal value. Not greater value, not lesser value, but equal value. Very little in American culture supports this ideal. Bragging is endemic. Stepping on others on the way up is normalized. Disregard for the “little person”(in true humility there is of course no such being) defines much of our policy decisions.

In 12 steps groups, participants take regular inventory of their character flaws. Today I am challenging myself to think more deeply about humility. Not to be more “umble” than Uriah Heep, but to recognize the worth of everyone I encounter.

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