Tuesday, December 17, 2013

About humility

I've had a busy time lately.  It seems that this is the season to do a lot of things, go to a lot of places, and see a lot of people.  And in all of this, I've been thinking about the importance of doing for others and the balance that requires.

I don't like to make Christmas about my getting things.  Instead, I like to think about what I am giving out to make things a little bit easier, happier for someone else.  Looking at my motives, it does make me uncomfortable to say that I want anything because I seem to have so much.  I've had a lot of material things all my life--a good home, good cars, enough money, a good education. Nothing extravagant but enough.

I've especially realized this past year that the way we live is way more comfortable than many.  And I've also realized that there is a whole other stratosphere out there where people really do spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on a wedding, or give a lover several hundred thousand to cover debts, or donate a couple of million to charities. I have been there first hand to see these things and realize that I am not comfortable among those who are among the upper 1%.

I don't want this to be a post about disparity in wealth but about humility. The people that I visit who are Hospice patients remind me how much I have.  I drove around yesterday to their homes, delivering Christmas cookies.  I felt sad that some live in houses that aren't so great. I wanted to give more to them than some cookies.  But the one thing that they seemed to have was happiness to see someone stop by and just talk a bit, spend some time with them, and wish them well.  I felt more at home with them than I do in the multi-million dollar homes.
I know that I haven't been humble for much of my life. In fact, I spent a lot of time being competitive, trying to be better than my peers at grant-writing, publishing, sports, etc.  When I was growing up, being average wasn't something that was encouraged. Both of my parents instilled in me that I was better than others in looks, brains, and ability.  I knew though that this wasn't really true.  I didn't believe what they said because I didn't think that I was special but actually lesser than average.

I didn't let on about those inner feelings though.  Instead, I worked hard to win. I worked hard to be somebody.  I worked hard to be better-than.  I wasn't boastful just determined to keep pushing ahead.  Inwardly, I was terrified but outwardly, I appeared to be a hard working success.  It was disingenuous at its best and down right fakery at its worst.

I have read that humility is about being teachable.  C. S. Lewis wrote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  And then there is this quote on ways to practice humility:

"To speak as little as possible of one's self.

To mind one's own business.

Not to want to manage other people's affairs.

To avoid curiosity.

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.

To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

Never to stand on one's dignity.

To choose always the hardest.” ~ Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living

I stumble over these things. I am curious by nature. I don't accept contradictions as gracefully as I would like. I don't like to be insulted or injured.  So I still fail at being humble.

I have learned though that I can mind my business and be okay. I can avoid being boastful.  I don't want to manage other people's lives. I am much kinder and gentler with others.  I know life isn't about winning or losing.  It's not about my having more things.  It's about what the inside of me feels like when I live each day.

Just a simple awareness of who I really am is humbling.  And I don't have to defend my position in order to be better than others.  Rather,  I want to be more useful to others.  And that is something that generates a lot of good feelings about me and living life.


  1. What a deeply moving post, Syd. So much here. I have worked for wealthy families in hospice, and then I have had less wealthy families....give me the less wealthy any day! What you say here is so true...they face their life and their death with simplicity and acceptance. They are ok, deep within themselves, they are ok.
    My counselor recently made a reference to god being in each of us shining out. That is what people see....it was such a humbling thought. God in me, imperfect, fallible, afraid, wobbly me....and He can shine through and bless people and bring comfort and hope. Who knew?!

  2. Here's what I have to say- I have a whole lot to be humble about. Wait. That sounds rather boastful. Oh dear. No one is ever going to confuse me with Mother Teresa.
    But seriously, Syd. This is a good post with many fine insights.

  3. smiles...humility being teachable is a great definition...and i think we learn it more and more the further we go...my friends from the shelter, the families i work with def keep me humble on some level...christmas is a harder time for me...so much waste you know...and so many without....

  4. It often amazes me that people don't realize that giving of ones self has so many rewards ! It has changed my life.

  5. Avoid curiosity? That seems ridiculous to me. I guess I'll never have true humility -- I'm ok with that.

  6. Looking into Mother Teresa's humility list, it appears it was written for nuns in the convent and her comment about curiosity pertained more to keeping one's nose out of other people's business and gossip. I was having a hard time attributing the list to the works of Mother Teresa. Http://fatherangel.tumblr.com/post/29184272511/is-mother-theresas-humility-list-realistic

  7. Syd....read you always...haven't posted in a long time. Your post here today is wonderful and a gift in a season that is very stressful on so many people. Thank you.

  8. You and your wife worked for what you have Syd. There is no shame in that game. There is no problem in being grateful for wealth enough to not struggle as your life comes to its final chapters.

    Regardless of what you were taught as a child and what you took away from that teaching, what you have become today is of far more value than being a better grant writer.

    I suggest you lose yourself for an hour and go back through your posts over the years and try to find one that is not full of humility and gratitude, not only for your life but more importantly the lives of others. It's OK to have things, it is not OK for things to have you, a curse I do not believe you travel under my friend.

  9. A beautiful way to practice Tradition Twelve in your daily life. I had similar experiences growing up, being trained to succeed loudly and strive to be noticed. It's an ego feeding game. As program teaches us, to work against our egos and foster humility, even anonymity, is something we do that connects us with the opposite of ego - our spirituality. And that's a beautiful thing. Thank you for this post, Syd.

  10. Unfortunately I had to be self absorbed for a long time to finally get over myself. Now I am practicing being okay without extravagant goals for myself. Just living as simply as I can and not thinking I have any answers for anyone. It has been a long road.

  11. Hi Syd, Your volunteer work brings you day to day encounters with other people that mean so much. The cookies, conversations and visits are what life is about. Happy holidays to you and your wife!


  12. I was feeling lost today. I found myself in your post. Thank you for the lovely and gentle reminder.

  13. I don't think that writing about the things you do to help others is a sign of lack of humility. If you had a problem with humility some time in the past, it seems long gone. You write with honesty and directness. Thank you for that.

    Wishing you and C. a quiet, peaceful Christmas, with whatever memories serve you best.

  14. Simply a beautiful post. Thank you.


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