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.

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A Resolution.

So a question.

Have you ever entered a new year with a resolution (or two) that quickly collapsed like a house of cards?  The thing about a house of cards is that it only takes the slightest touch or the gentlest of breezes for it to crumple.  I think the same can be said about a resolution made on December 31st.  Here is a statistic or two (certainly not definitive):

1. Approximately 40 – 45% of all American adults make one or more resolutions per year.

2. Approximately 12% of all new year’s resolutions made end in success.

Why do we enter into such futile endeavors?  Oh, they are full of hope of course, but when the chances are 9 in 10 of failure, I’d say that’s pretty futile.  But why do we do it?  I fancy that it is our way of continually trying to combat one of the most inescapable forces in the universe: entropy.  Before eyes glaze over thinking this will be a thermodynamic discussion, let me just use this word in a simple way:  All things move from order to disorder.  This is notably true in the physical world, but I remain quite sure it happens in our day to day life as well.  Think about your kitchen table, your office desk, your body…any number of things.  Everything moving toward disorder is of course a simplistic and clumsy conjecture, but I think that it is the very reason we make resolutions each year.

We sweep the floor, vacuum the carpet, brush our teeth, organize the closet, clean the city streets, throw out old things once loved, all in the hopes of renewal, whether it is brief or groundbreaking.  And the idea of the the new year’s resolution hinges on being groundbreaking, but it doesn’t take into account that entropy is inescapable.  We will once again be in the same position to make resolutions.  December 31st next year, how many will try to quit smoking (again), how many will go on the South Beach diet (again), how many will go to Anytime Fitness five days a week (again)?  Well, the simple truth is…half of us.  And the other truth is almost every single one of us will fail.

_______

I will not lie when I say my instinct is make a great number of resolutions this year.  Why?  I think many know this year has been one of the most tumultuous and cataclysmic years in the three decades I’ve walked.  It has not been particularly fun, and in many ways despair has been a constant companion.  I have lost a great deal.  Home and scenery has changed.  My heart has perhaps never felt as empty as recently.  So coming close to the birth of a new year there are so many things I could think of….to change….but I keep getting the nagging feeling that something is amiss with this road.  I could resolve this and that, but I do know in my heart this:  am I someone else at the tick of 12:00 and one second?  No.  I am Eric. I remain Eric, and will remain Eric.  And the surface resolutions (that will probably collapse by February) I could make matter not to what is really important –  ….and here is a blessed thought:  what if a resolution could be made that cuts my universe so violently that entropy doesn’t matter anymore?

Here is my supposition:

I resolve to abide. Yes, but not just abide, but abide in love and as love.

Ok.  But what does that even mean?  Abiding means to endure without yielding.  I call on my hero Søren Kierkegaard once again from one of the best books ever written “Works of Love”:

What marvellous strength love has! The most powerful word which has been said, yes, God’s creative word, is: “Be.”  But the most powerful word any human being has ever said is, if said by a lover:  “I abide.” …As he truly is the lover, there is no misunderstanding which sooner or later will not be conquered by his abiding, there is no hate that ultimately will not have to give up and yield to his abiding – in eternity if not sooner.  …love never fails – it abides.

It turns out probably one of the only things that we can interact with on this blesséd planet that entropy cannot touch is this beautiful, complex and often irrational (yet somehow completely rational) thing called love.  But what a silly thing to resolve to abide in it, right?  How naive, how childish, how foolish.  How does one even do it?  Shouldn’t I make a more pinpointed resolution to eat fish twice a week or cut up that credit card or do sit ups everyday?

What if we resolved to abide in love instead – to endure in love without ceasing…or try desperately to?  What if I gave myself over the notion that the best possible thing I could do is love….everyone.  To be a slave not to entropy but to something that clears it away like a great flood.

Many will recognize this poignant moment:

“I had power over nothing.”  Tom’s character resolved to kill himself because of his circumstance.  He wanted control, as we do each December 31st.  We want to get control of everything in our life….and we do….for a few days.  But we are subject to a will not our own.  We are privy to decay and time…and great loss.  How many resolutions will it take to recognize it?  This isn’t a resolution to “get better” or “be healthier” or “change.”  It is a resolution to be. To not lose hope.  To not drown in dark water’s of despair.

So, I must keep breathing, abide, watch for the tide to change.  I know I will lose again, I know I will fail, struggle, succeed again, win, be fulfilled.  I know I will meet and say goodbye.  I know I will lose control, desperately want to gain control.  But to resolve to love, to give everything of myself to all I meet and am given – my family, my friends, my enemies, random though they all seem sometimes – even though I may not want to.  What better resolution could I make?

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To all.  I wish only the best of things this upcoming year.  I do know the best of things won’t come to all of us, though.  We were never guaranteed it, although our hope should never cease.  May the Creator of this universe bless you, mostly because I believe in the depths of my heart that he wants to.  To be sure his love, which is the perfection of abiding, is what is holding us together.  His love is gravity.

A Manifesto of Authenticity

So being stuck at Denver International on a long, long layover brings thoughts and a blog.

Enter Jay Kay and the acid-jazz ensemble Jamiraquai:

_____

Ok, if you need help (and you probably will), let me lay down the lyrics…

Oh yeah, what we’re living in (let me tell ya)
It’s a wonder man can eat at all
When things are big that should be small
Who can tell what magic spells we’ll be doing for us
And I’m giving all my love to this world
Only to be told
I can’t see
I can’t breathe
No more will we be
And nothing’s going to change the way we live
Cos’ we can always take but never give
And now that things are changing for the worse,
See, its a crazy world we’re living in
And I just can’t see that half of us immersed in sin
Is all we have to give these –

Futures made of virtual insanity now
Always seem to, be govern’d by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound – for we all live underground

And I’m thinking what a mess we’re in
Hard to know where to begin
If I could slip the sickly ties that earthly man has made
And now every mother, can choose the colour
Of her child
That’s not nature’s way
Well that’s what they said yesterday
There’s nothing left to do but pray
I think it’s time I found a new religion
Waoh – it’s so insane
To synthesize another strain
There’s something in these
Futures that we have to be told.

Futures made of virtual insanity – now
Always seem to, be govern’d by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound – for we all live underground

Now there is no sound
If we all live underground
And now it’s virtual insanity
Forget your virtual reality
Oh, there’s nothing so bad.
I know yeah

Of this virtual insanity, we’re livin in.
Has got to change, yeah
Things, will never be the same.
And I can’t go on
While we’re livin’ in oh, oh virtual insanity
Oh, this world, has got to change
Cos I just, I just can’t keep going on, it was virtual.
Virtual insanity that we’re livin’ in, that we’re livin’ in
That virtual insanity is what it is

Futures made of virtual insanity – now
Always seem to, be govern’d by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound – for we all live underground

So, we may or may not be living underground in the near future, but we are indeed living in a virtual insanity.  It seems to remain increasingly difficult to hang on to self, purpose, and Truth in this age of social media moving like a hurricane over the waters of culture.  Maybe others aren’t struggling and its just me.  I suppose there are countless directions to travel from this ground.  We could discuss Eco’s hyperreality, or Veblen’s conspicuous consumption, but I think I’ll share words of my mentor Kierkegaard.  Words that Joakim Garff, in Kierkegaard’s biography, “have subsequently assumed a permanent position in pretty nearly every introduction to existentialism as a sort of manifesto of authenticity.  And from a biographical point of view this entry is of great interest because it resembles the great breakthrough texts one finds in Augustine or Luther, for example.  Finally (one almost sighs), the young, eccentric man has attained clarity about his task and his destiny.”

Søren Kierkegaard

What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not about what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every action.  It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Diety really wants me to do.  It is a question of finding a truth that is truth for me, of finding the idea for which I am willing to live and die.  And what would it profit me if I discovered a so-called objective truth; if I worked my way through they systems of the philosophers and was able to parade them forth on demand; if I was able to demonstrate the inconsistencies within each individual circle…. — what would it profit me if I were able to expound the significance of Christianity, able to explain many individual parts, if it held no deeper significance for me and for my life? ….What would it profit me if the the truth stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I acknowledged it or not, calling forth an anguished shudder rather than confident submission?  I will certainly not deny that I still believe in the validity of an imperative of knowledge that has an influence upon men, but nonetheless must become a living part of me, and this  is what I now understand to be the heart of the matter.  It is for this my soul thirsts, as the deserts of Africa thirst for water.
-SK

Can you imagine having this much clarity at 20 years old?  I almost can’t imagine ever having this kind of lucidity regarding life, at any age.  It calls us to not only believe in something, but live in a peculiar way…living changed.  If we don’t put it into practice than what’s the point of believing in it?

I really do believe this is only getting harder as we go along.  So many things are becoming ambiguous.  Are we capable of saying a statement like “It is a question of finding a truth that is truth for me, of finding the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”  I’m not so sure anymore.  Oh, there are a few who would, and bless them, for they are noble people, but even what the word nobility means is being ‘leveled’ and obscured.  Sometimes it feels like everything is confused now and noisy.

Besides having an amazing top hat, Jay Kay said it pretty well:  “…its a crazy world we’re living in And I just can’t see that half of us immersed in sin Is all we have to give…”

So…in the end, I want to believe that finally (one almost sighs), the young, eccentric man has attained clarity about his task and his destiny.
More to Give.
More to Be.
To Love, because… I must.

Love Abides

Those that are close to me know that Kierkegaard has become a dear friend to me (similar to Finzi in this way – I feel as though he is a friend, though he crossed over long ago).   Many of my recent thoughts, decisions, paths, and brambles have been at the behest of Mr. Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Current reading has been Works of Love, composed in 1847, which some consider to be the central work in Kierkegaard’s entire authorship.  I am nearing the end of it and came across a particularly poignant paragraph (amid numberless poignant paragraphs!)  It seems poignant to me because as of late sometimes I am finding myself to be a listener, a comforter, and supporter of a few people that are really “going through it.”  The “it” could be death of family, horrific past memories, slavery to this and that, etc.  When I came across this excerpt, I really think speaks to these times – times we all know and experience!  And, now, Søren:

Love Abides

“Yes, God be praised, love abides! Whatever the world takes away from you, though it be the most cherished, whatever happens to you in life, however you may have to suffer because of your striving, for the good, if you please, if men turn indifferent from you or as enemies against you, if no one is willing to admit acquaintance with you or acknowledge what he nevertheless owes to you, if even your best friend should deny you – if nevertheless in any of your strivings, in any of your actions, in any of your words you truly have consciously had love along: then take comfort for love abides.

“What you knew with love will be consoling to remember, more blessed than any sort of achievement any human being could have accomplished, more blessed than if the spirits had been submissive to you; it will be more blessed to be remembered by love!  What you knew with love will be consoling to remember; neither the present nor the future, neither angels nor devil, and God be praised, not even the fearful thoughts of your unquiet mind, will be able to take it from you, not in the stormiest, most difficult moment of your life any more than the last moment of your life – because love abides.

“– And when despondency begins to make you weak so that you lose the desire to will rightly in order to make you strong again, as strong as despondency, alas, makes you strong in defiance of forsakenness; when despondency makes you all empty, changes your whole life into a homogenized, meaningless repetition so that you see it all together but very indifferently, see the meadows and woods green again, see the manifold life in air and water move again, hear the birds singing together again, see again and again the activity of men in all sorts of work – and you know indeed that God is, but it seems to you as if he had receded into himself, as if he were absent in heaven far away from all these insignificant things which are hardly worth living for; when despondency takes the heart out of your whole life, so that you know but only faintly that Christ has existed and nevertheless know with anxious clarity that it was eighteen hundred years ago (now two thousand), as if he were infinitely far removed from all these insignificant things which are hardly worth living for – O, consider, then, that love endures!

“For if love endures, it is equally certain that it is in the future, if this is the consolation you need, or that it is in the present, if this is the consolation you need.  Against all the terrors of the future set this consolation: love abides; against all the anxiety and staleness of the present set this consolation: love abides

“…When we speak this way we speak of the love which sustains all existence, of God’s love.  If for a moment, a single moment, it were absent, everything would be confused.  But this is not the case, and therefore, however confused everything is for you – love abides.”

 

It occurs to me this is the love we must strive to have for each other.  A love that abides, and so my friends, I listen, support, comfort when I can, and supply the knowledge that even if my love cannot fully endure and be perfect, love itself will endure, and abide.  This abiding love has the ability to build-up and sustain your failing heart.