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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Irony of Humility

[Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.] Numbers 12:3 (NIV).

“Humble” can mean relatively low in rank and without pretensionsEncarta Dictionary. Certainly Moses was not low in rank among his people, and for someone who communicated directly with God it may be a little difficult to view him as without pretensions.  As a verb “humble” means: to make somebody feel less important – to make somebody feel less proud or convinced of his or her own importance (ibid).  Now when we consider that Moses told others that the source of his authority was “I am” and that he stood up to Pharaoh, not an unimportant person, it can become difficult to understand the nature of Moses’ humility.  Other definitions of “humble” include modest – modest and unassuming in attitude and behavior in addition to being respectful – feeling or showing respect and deference toward other people (ibid).  One can only guess that Pharaoh did not find Moses humble when he had the temerity to demand “Let my people go.”  But this observation applies not only in viewing Moses.  One could likewise consider Martin Luther King, Jr. and wonder how someone could be considered humble who was willing to confront established authority and the accepted mores of society and to speak out so forcefully before power.  Yet I think it is readily possible to view him as humble in the sense that he was willing to subject himself to ridicule and abuse—to venom and hatred—and even controversy within his own ranks to serve what he found to be the will of God.  So, it becomes essential to identify from whose point of view Moses and MLK were humble—surely not from their opponents.  But their willingness to subject themselves to abuses for the service of a higher cause marks them as humble.  In this sense, they could be relied upon to be humble before God, even in the face of the contrary opinion before man.

My son George is building a business in car detailing.  Today I spoke with someone in the same business who has headed his own company for many years.  I asked him if he would mind if George gave him a call to discuss the in’s and out’s and essentials of building and maintaining a successful business.  He graciously replied that he would be willing to talk with George at any time. I plan to give George his card and recommend that he call him.  In my own mind, this will be a critical test.  Will George (the rising entrepreneur of a new business) be willing to humble himself before the seasoned advice of experience?  In this sense, a successful business is founded upon humility—the willingness to listen and seek advice.  Likewise Kenny (the seasoned veteran) is humble in his willingness to share his observations.

This leads to an observation regarding the irony of humility—it often can be viewed judgmentally as pride.  Simply because one fills a high-profile position is no automatic indicator of his humility or lack of it.  The person of low rank can be a hundred times more arrogant than the exalted.  If we find someone arrogant, we should first ask is it not really we who are arrogant and complacently established in exploitive ways.  We need to recognize a fundamental truth—that strength and humility are not incompatible.  If we were to ask, how dare one suggest an action, humility on our part will first require that we strive to put ourselves in his shoes and to even search out the will and viewpoint of God in place of our own.  If we can’t do this, then perhaps we are the ones needing a little humility.

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