Consequence of Humility

Who are you, in truth?  Who am I…in truth?  It is a question that requires more than a passing fanciful thought, does it not?  The words “in truth” are also desperately important, and seem to be growing more important daily as we continue to seek new ways of building image, new ways of fertilizing jealousy, new ways of deception, new ‘-isms,’ and new ways of developing “grass is greener over there” mentalities. I won’t lament this nonsense here, but will seek instead for something old fashioned…. something that seems to be thrown off and a bit forgotten in our age of self-worth hyper-realities and echo-chambers.  I seek humility.

Our dictionary defines ‘humility’ this way

(h)yo͞oˈmilədē/
noun
  1. a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

I find this definition to be quite limiting and maybe even a little askew from the truth.  It is indeed common across cultures and religions to think of humility as debasing oneself or, as Wikipedia states in its overview, “Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as the self-restraint from excessive vanity…”.  This debasement, or self-effacement seems to be the most common conception of the term.  There is a truth in that yes, yet there are those who wonder of a different and richer definition that may create a more accurate vision of what ‘humility’ actually is.  To start, I think C.S. Lewis gets closer in his description of a humble man in Mere Christianity:

C S LewisDo not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
Mere Chrisitanity; C.S. Lewis

Worth hearing again. “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

Even closer might be Rabbi Jonathon Sacks’ notion in Greatness is Humility that “humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills, and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of oneself, but to appreciate the self one has received.”

It means honoring others and regarding them as important, no less important than you are. It does not mean holding yourself low; it means holding other people high. It means roughly what Ben Zoma meant when he said, “Who is honored? One who honors others.”
– Greatness is Humility; Rabbi Jonathon Sacks

And finally, though I’m not necessarily a fan, Immanuel Kant states that humility is “that meta-attitude that constitutes the moral agent’s proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but capable and dignified rational agent”  If I could, in all my foolishness, modify the great Kant, I would change it to this: humility is that meta-attitude that constitutes the moral agent’s proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but incapable and decidedly irrational agent. 

So, I suppose I believe that a better general definition of humility may be something like this:

noun
  1. a right or accurate view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

I’ve decided to leave “humbleness” in my definition because all people, when thinking correctly and soberly about themselves, would most assuredly be humble.  But this is the problem isn’t it?  We seem to be in an age where people are thinking less and less correctly or soberly about any situation — not least of which when thinking about one’s self.  We are consumed with image and the troubling idea of “self-worth.”  We are constantly bored.  We are jealous and envious of others.  We prop up houses of cards that fall in the lightest breeze.  We are notorious complainers, vicious to others.  How could that kind of people know intimately what humility is?  How could we have an accurate, right view of one’s self, or our own importance?  Søren Kierkegaard once wrote,”a person who chooses his own identity is ‘a king without a country’ and his subjects live in conditions where rebellion is legitimate at every moment.”

There is another aspect to humility (other than ignorance of it) that is equally concerning, and that is false humility.  I myself have lived somewhat ignorant of true humility to some extent much of my life, but with chagrin, I confess I know false humility deeply.  Though I may not have descended to the level that Lewis describes: “…a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody,” I do know I have been in conversations where instead of saying a simple “thank you,” I have said “oh, no, no no…it was nothing… it was not my best work… I wasn’t that good… etc,” but in my heart I was grinning with a sickly pride, saying, “oh yes, tell me more.  Describe in detail what you thought was great. Gush please.”  Ouch.  …painful, and alarmingly common for me over the years.  I was all too often creating an image unto myself, manipulating myself and others, and masking a gross pride.  I wonder if this sounds familiar to anyone else.

Ignorance and falseness are far removed from real humility.  The truth is that humility is very difficult, if not impossible for a human, don’t you see?.  It means that you see yourself (and your work) accurately in the natural and supernatural world.  That is dreadfully difficult for many people….well, maybe everyone.  We want to be seen.  We want to be remembered.  We want to be looked to.  We want to be loved.  We want to be lauded.  We endlessly promote, endlessly photoshop our pictures, endlessly worry about outcomes, endlessly get angry when things don’t turn out our way, and consistently get jealous of others’ successes.

I believe it is worth searching intensely for true humility and to get sober about one’s self.  The consequence of such action may be worth the effort.  I believe the consequence of humility… true humility, is: freedom.

Oh, I see the immediate response of the brain as plain as day because I have had the responses myself.  “If I go for real humility I am going to miss out!”  “I will miss out on potential praise from others.”  “I will miss out on opportunities.”  “I will not be allowed to be angry at being wronged by another.”  “I will not be loved the way I think I should.” “I will miss out on the great prizes of life if I don’t just act humble for a show, but am actually humble!”  Well, yes, you may.  But you will be free. Free from what?

You will begin to be free from jealousy. You will be utterly free to not worry about how you are perceived by others.  You will begin to be free of anger at others’ successes or failures.  You will be free to sacrifice your desires for others.  You will be free to begin to claim a proper perspective of yourself.  You may be less tossed to-and-fro by troubles.  You will be free to actually enjoy life more, and not have to convince yourself, fake it, or buy it.

You will begin to be free to think less of yourself.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Aren’t you tired of thinking about yourself constantly?

________________

This type of thinking flies in the face of what society and culture is teaching, I know that.  “Self-love” is the doctrine of the day (and false humility falls under the heading “self-love” also, lets be honest about that).  Even if this doctrine of self isn’t necessarily preached from a mountaintop, I see it on every street corner and in most people’s eyes.  Sometimes I feel it quite strongly, the pull away from humility and towards service of me, myself, and I.  Humility requires letting go, and that is one of the very things humans never want to do.  Oh, we must be the captains of our own fates, mustn’t we?  With this understood, in my very heart I believe that a transformative and life-giving humility requires a supernatural force to assist its generation and flourishing.  Kierkegaard stated the formula to essentially achieve a correct view of self and eradication of despair, thus triggering true humility: when “the self is grounded transparently in the power that established it.” I trust you understand what he is suggesting here — if not, answers can be found in either his book The Sickness unto Death or more plainly seen throughout the New Testament.

There is no doubt a mountain of other things to be said on this subject (and I am certain I have failed in some of my generalizations and descriptions above), yet as a moderate conclusion to the matter here, I have learned that I cannot trust my own heart and what it desires.  I have been disappointed in the results too many times.  I have looked back on my actions, either accidental, well-meant, or foolish, and have seen them to be wavering, many times self-seeking, and at best the results are short-lived.  But what joy! I am tasting a true humility more and more these days because I am grounding myself transparently to the power that established me.  I am letting go through a power not my own and building a correct and right view of my worth as a human being on a cornerstone that will never be moved.  I am sacrificing more for others.  I am able to let go and be happy for other people and finding myself worrying less about how I am perceived.  I am tasting, like drops of water in an immense desert, freedom and joy.  I wish this for you, (and me), dearly.

Be ye humble in truth.

Dancing on a tightrope

Freddy Nock essentially doing something insane:

First off, I’m pretty sure I just wore those Puma’s yesterday…

Second, you know my love of amazing stashes.

But most importantly this spectacle has something to do with a recent work of art I commissioned from an amazing and dear friend Matthew Whitney, a Seattle based artist.

I asked Matt what the title of this piece should be and he said “Logische Takt”  This concept (logical tact) was coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  In order to learn about it with some minor depth, here is an excerpt from The Practice of Everday Life by Michel de Certeau.

Characteristically, Kant treats the relation between the art of operating (Kunst) and science (Wissenschaft), or between a technique (Technik) and theory (Theorie), in the context of an investigation that has moved from earlier versions on taste toward a critique of judgment.  He encounters art, on the road leading from taste to judgment, as the parameter of a practical knowledge exceeding knowledge and having an esthetic form.  Kant discerns in what he calls, in a stroke of genius, a “logical tact” (logische Takt).  Inscribed in the orbit of an esthetics, the art of operating is placed under the sign of the faculty of judgment, the “alogical” condition of thought.  The traditional antinomy between “operativity” and “reflection” is transcended through a point of view which, acknowledging an art at the root of thought, makes judgment a “middle term” (Mittleglied) between theory and praxis.  This art of thinking constitutes a synthetic unity of the two terms.

Kant’s examples concern precisely everyday practices: “The faculty of judgment exceeds the understanding…. The faculty of judging what clothes a chambermaid should wear.  The faculty of judging by the dignity appropriate to an edifice what ornaments will not conflict with the goal in view.”  Judgment does not bear on social conventions (the elastic equilibrium of a network of tacit contracts) alone, but more generally on the relation among a great number of elements, and it exists only in the act of concretely creating a new set by putting one more element into a convenient connection with this relation, just as one adds a touch of red or ochre to a a painting, changing it without destroying it.  The transformation of a given equilibrium into another one characterizes art.

To explain this, Kant mentions the general authority of discourse, an authority which is nevertheless never more than local and concrete:  where I come from, he writes (in meinem Gegenden: in my region, in my “homeland.”), “the ordinary man” der Gemeine Mann) says (sagt) that charlatans and magicians (Tashenspielers) depend on knowledge (you can do it if you know the trick), whereas tightrope dancers (Siltánzers) depend on an art.  Dancing on a tightrope requires that one maintain an equilibrium from one moment to the next by recreating it at every step by means of new adjustments; it requires one to maintain a balance that is never permanently acquired; constant readjustment renews the balance while giving the impression of “keeping” it.

So the work of the tightrope dancer shares space with the work of the artist.  Time never ceases, and it brings with baggage full of new ideas, new boundaries, new factors, and new relationships.  The artist (or tightrope artist) must do the nearly impossible feat of transforming the balance of the previous moment to the balance of the present moment.  The best musicians do this, especially when in an ensemble experience.  The best dancers do this.  The geniuses of every art-form do this.

I suppose the best thing to do is begin to think of living life (the art that it is) as a tightrope dancer, constantly seeking this logische Takt.  Balancing theory and praxis.  Balancing conjecture and reality.  Balancing what you think “should” be with what “is”.  Or seeing both, and taking the careful steps forward with arms out ready to transform the moment to a state of balance.

It seems to me this is how most of us move forward through life: