Sunday, January 16, 2011

False Humility

We're watching the Golden Globes, making our traditional sarcastic comments about both dress and remarks.  Just a moment ago Jane Lynch won an award for her role as Sue Sylvester on Glee, and spoke of herself as "Falsely humble," and I thought she said the truest line of the night.

Falsely humble.  This is a concept I'm quite familiar with.  I remember being at a week-long camp one spring (Young Life's Malibu Club), and every morning I got up, looked in the mirror and said, "Hey ugly!"  About the fourth day, one of the counselors asked why on earth I would say such a thing, and I answered, rather glibly, "I just like to start the day with the right perspective." The counselor sat me down and had a long talk to me about false humility.  The thing was--and I still maintain this--I really didn't think I was very attractive.  And I also was working hard to fight the cultural ethos that said my physical attractiveness was important.  However, the counselor (who was also a math teacher at our school) had a very good point.  Talking to myself in a mirror was not the way to develop humility.  It was superficial and contrived (undoubtedly there were hopes that someone would come along and tell me I was beautiful!), and the most ugly thing about it was that I was doing it at all.

But one way or another many of us say things that sound humble but are actually the complete opposite.  Just this week I've heard them.  What we disguise as empathy can be an example--"I don't know how I got so lucky to have such good health/great kids/a happy marriage".  When we're talking to a person in pain (of any kind), to speak of our lack of pain is bad form.  We may suggest we don't deserve it, but that's somewhat like me lying to my reflection in the mirror.  What we're really saying is, "Thank God I don't have that pain."  Those words can cut like a knife to the heart of a person's pain. And there's no humility in such words.  Certainly no help to the hurting.  And...I'm sorry to say, I've been on both sides of these words, the one being hurt by them and the one speaking them as well.

Here's the thing:  it's absolutely acceptable, even good, to be grateful that one doesn't have the same pain as another person.  It's also absolutely acceptable to thank God for the incredible blessings of children well-raised, a happy marriage, even a beautiful face in the mirror (though one had no hand in it unless you paid for plastic surgery!).  However, what we must learn is to live a surrendered life--in everything.  To listen to others pain and be with them in it without measuring theirs as worse than ours, and telling them so.  To listen to our adult children (as I did this week) and their struggles, without telling them how their struggles impact us ("You can't do that, because I'll miss you too much, I'll worry about you too much..." You get my drift.).

Humility.  I have so much to learn about the surrendered life.  About not inserting myself into every conversation. It's a long lesson to learn.  Every day, I take baby steps.  Even my life is not my own.

Forgive me for the words I've spoken that were insensitive, couched in a false humility, but only cut your pain in sharper relief.

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