PARADOXICAL

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Monday, July 31, 2006

 

"Humility is like underwear"


Humility is one area most of us struggle with. The humility test often shows its results especially when we examine our responses during our close brushes with other people. The usual culprit, of course, is our immodest ego, this disgusting desire of ours to make an impression, which is, after all, human nature. Loving ourselves is not wrong, we recognize readily. But the trouble is most of us seem to have an excess of it that we always find ourselves dying to send the subtexts of our having good looks, wealth, intelligence, fame, even character.

The last item, in my observation, is especially pathetic. When we send not just deliberate subtexts but screaming announcements that we are canonizable, it too sucks, oftentimes because it is untrue. Someone likened humility to underwear: essential, he said, but indecent if it shows.

I, for one, struggle in the humility department especially because I grew up perennially getting the top honors in school as a young boy. I amazed my family, my aunts and cousins with my drawing talent, too. Plus I found out that I had quite a sharp memory. What's worse, when I grew up and attended college, I went to a non-humble school, one that screened out those it considered less intellectually or academically endowed.

It wasn't long before I noticed that every gift I had also came with a curse in terms of the temptation and the resultant struggle to keep my feet on the ground, i.e., to remind myself that I am only human, I am not perfect, and I could die any time.

But I made it a point not to hide my gifts just the same, when the situation did not call for hiding. To insist I am dumb and ugly would be indecent as well if I am not. I would be telling a lie. There's also such a thing as false humility. A lot of us are not aware of it but we often practice false humility.

But going back to humility... Fr. J. said that, once you're aware of it (humility), you don't have it!

What?, you ask. Yes, the concept is not as easy as ABC. Here's a sample of reactions that exhibit humility as a false facade: Instead of saying a curt Thank you to a valid compliment, we deny the compliment aloud in the hope that it is counter-attacked very kindly, thus heightening the validation we want to hear. The trouble is, most of us are given to lying and, with this common knowledge, most of us cannot take other people at their word. It's understandable that we are wary of flatteries, but a pure, humble person would not want to be self-effacing either.

So what really is humility? The right answer might be found in St Teresa of Avila's words: "Humility is living in the truth." When we are humble, we recognize that a) we are but made of humus, but b) we are children of God. That's the true definition of humility from the Christian perspective.

To an outsider, humility - and the absence of it - can get indeed get pretty deceptive. Like J. D. Salinger said (in the novel Franny and Zooey), there are people who are so conceited they are actually humble. On the other hand, I know certain people who dress up humbly but are actually subtle braggarts, dropping insinuations here and there like it's the most natural thing to do in a given conversation.

St Teresa of Avila's admonishing definition therefore can never be overemphasized. As Christians, we are constantly told to be humble, but we are also constantly told to love ourselves. "How can we love our neighbors if we can't love ourselves? We can't possibly give what we don't have." But some Christians often miss the second point or element of humility: We must act with confidence, a confidence in the knowledge that we are children of a God who not only died for us, who not only saves, but one who lives in us (Emmanuel) and promises immortality. What's more, we must act like we are children of the greatest royalty here on earth and beyond, the King of the Universe, no less. The point is, how can we remain humble if we are to boast in the Lord, if we are children of a king at the same time?

Humility, it seems, depends on what we are being humble for. There are times when it's plain wrong to be humble and there are times when it's also wrong not to be.

12.5.2000


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