Sunday, January 4, 2015

Humility: Thoughts on a useful concept that is easily misconstrued

Being humble is characteristic that many people value but is misused and mistaken.

When I think of humility, I find myself aligned with common understandings of the term where it is exercised by way of thinking of oneself in modest terms. Metaphors that utilize this concept include having the realization that we are but one of many, like stars in the universe with one being no better than the other in spite of the differences we carry with us. I tend to think of humility as part of a loving praxis where we utilize this understanding in ways that allow us to be of benefit to one another in our respective journeys of being who we are. I can help so I will. When I can't help, I will try to find ways of getting you to where you want/need to be,(and will feel bad for not being able to be of help--working on reducing that feeling).

This ends up being misconstrued when considering how we exist in a status quo that suggests that a hierarchy must be maintained and therefore one must be better than others, or at least seen that way. We end up believing that we are in competition with each other to be better than the next person. I notice that systems of oppression benefit from this, especially when it comes to the desire we have to be considered good people, and we are. However we get tricked into believing that humility means lowering ourselves for the sake of another , when such posturing isn't necessary as far as humility is concerned.

What ends up happening is the perpetuation of a standard where those who believe themselves to be the personal lord and savior of others, maintain that status by asking/demanding that those of good will "humble" ourselves before them in status and/or service, which is what we should be doing anyway for our own salvation. This standard should sound familiar, especially when it leads to working against our own interests and subsequently being exploited and oppressed in the process. Often this request/demand of "humility" is really just another way for the oppressor to continue keeping the oppressed down and therefore in their place. Imagery of someone standing on the necks or bodies of others comes to mind. It is no mistake that being on one's knees is another favored imagery of humility.

Many of us know this is happening as we witness that our labor is alienated and non-beneficial in spirit. This is especially the case when we know humility, when considered a loving praxis, is balancing because there is a dialogue--a form of reciprocation--that takes place. Not in the sense that we gain in a capitalist manner of receiving something, but there is satisfaction and even joy that is part of humility when it is a loving praxis, that is, an activity that is respectful, interested in the growth of others, understanding, and caring. Those involved gain and grow from this sort of interaction.

What I do not appreciate about this false humility is the fact that people like me, a black woman, are continually reprimanded for having too much pride when we refuse, or at least speak critically to this form of inherent oppression. Especially when it is clear that the oppressor in question is not interested in considering that this form of humility is oppressive. This is notable when they cannot imagine doing the same for others--unless it is done in the service of opportunity to directly benefit in a way that further elevates their status. The issue I have therefore has to do with the fact that the feeling of pride, for people like me, is hard to come by, let alone engage in meaningfully as an act of self-love.

Those oppressors that are also members of oppressed groups should know this. Our pride makes us targets because we still exist in a system that expects us to know our place, which then gets mistaken for humility. So I get reprimanded for being critical of this notion of lowering myself when it is quite clear what is going on is a reminder of forgetting my place--that of being in service to those that believe themselves to be my personal lords and saviors. My growth is subsequently stunted as I am to receive nothing nourishing and should be grateful for this.

Humility for me is being willing and even happy to do what I can, when I can, where I can, thus a source of pride and an act of resistance to a status-quo of transactional alienating relations. I balk at being used or taken advantage of, which is also part of my previous critique of "humility". One of my biggest challenges as far as humility is concerned is asking for help. Not because I lower myself--no such thing--but that I feel as if I have become insufficient, which is a source of pride for me. Being humble, engaging in humility is an act of love. Pride is an act of self-love that is balanced with humility. People who understand this and act in kind are a joy to be around and learn from. When misconstrued, humility is alienating and oppressive, making it hard to relate to people.

Because I view humility in these ways, those that know me as a friend engage in kind. Those that do not, feel the need to misconstrue humility as a way of asking for things--especially when being "owed" something--when all they need to do is simply ask. Of course I do the same when I do not know where I stand with others, especially those that are more in tune with the status-quo. I also understand the desire not to come off as using others, which is where self-sufficiency kicks into high gear. So I know where folks are coming from when they do this, but it still hurts to think that they see me as someone they need to lower themselves to when I do not desire such forms of relating.

When I think of humility as an act of love, I think this song expresses how this can be understood and hopefully can guide our interactions with others...

Addendum: To engage in humility also means being vulnerable. This means living with the possibility that in engaging in this act of love, one will not be treated in kind, or kindly at all, and should not expect to be (which may or may not contradict my viewpoint of a dialogue taking place). Perhaps being humble is just as much an act of letting go, which allows for it to be an act of love to begin with.

These thoughts are subject to change and open to reconsideration.

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