I woke in the middle of the night with a realization about humility.
Humility in America gets a bum rap because we’re more used to “false humility.” You: You’re so beautiful! Beautiful Person: Oh, no, I’m terribly ugly. False humility isn’t a virtue as much as an annoyance, but the real deal is harder to pin down because it doesn’t call attention to itself.
I’ve been reading about saints and they have humility in a way that’s less the opposite of arrogance than it is the opposite of fear.
What if we define humility as comfort with our limits? Not laziness or not working toward our potential, but a deep acceptance that we have limits?
Arrogance strikes me as the belief that oneself should have no limits, that there should be nothing which the self is not capable of if only we work at it hard enough, or long enough, or conditions are right. It doesn’t have to be in-your-face, I’m-so-great arrogance, even though it normally takes that form. But the precondition of arrogance is that the self is something infinite in potential, that if you’ve set your mind to an accomplishment, it’s just a matter of time before you succeed. Therefore failure is an affront and something to be hidden. Therefore weakness is something to be denied. Therefore others’ weakness and failure is a threat to the self, because it’s an admission that oneself might have weaknesses and limits.
People who are truly humble have reached the conclusion that they’re finite and aren’t going to accomplish everything they want. They’ve accepted that failure, at least on occasion, is inevitable if they handle things on their own, and therefore they’re willing to ask for advice, willing to accept help, and are spontaneous with their gratitude. (You’ll notice that arrogant people seldom, if ever, say thank you. It’s not in their vocabulary because if they thank you, the thanks presumes you gave a useful service, whereas the arrogance presumes they never needed your service in the first place.)
Pauline Griffin, after reading one of my Seven Archangels novels, commented that the Archangel Michael was humble. I said to her, “No, he’s not humble. He just knows who he is and what he can do, and accepts that his strength comes from God.” She said, “And that’s humility.” See? Truly humble people slip it by you, even when you’re writing them.
As far as I know, there’s no law demanding perfection, either in politics or in religion. As Mother Teresa said, God never demands success, only that we keep trying. (Rough paraphrase.) It may be that accepting the existence of limits is the first step toward true humility.