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.