We welcome as a guest P. Anderson, more commonly known throughout the bloggernacle as Starfoxy.
In the grand tradition of Safeway, Vons, and and grocery stores the world over, I’ve been hired here at BCC as temporary holiday help. I’ll be providing two weeks worth of the blog equivalent to a inexperienced cashier at the the register with the slowest line waiting for the manager to come void the transaction, or something like that.
Some of the most awkward uncomfortable lessons that I’ve ever sat through- the ones where the teacher can never find the right words, and the class has little or nothing to contribute, and everyone talks in cirlces- are the ones about [insert dramatic pause] humility. Humility is unique among desirable qualities because it is most often defined negatively, we find it easier to say what humility is not rather than what humility is. Humility is most often defined as the absence of pride, and pride is most often thought of as shameless egotism. Pride, as many of us are well aware, is practically the theme of the Book of Mormon. The phrase “lifted themselves up in the pride of their own hearts” (or some variation) is repeated over and over and over again throughout the whole book. We are told repeatedly to avoid the sin of pride, and that pride is the most common and dangerous sin one can commit.I’m sure many of us have had the pleasure, at some point in our youth, of being told how to accept a compliment. We are told to acknowledge compliments gracefully, without protest, qualifiers, or self-degradation, and the best default way to do this is to say “Thank you,” and nothing more. This is a lesson some people never really learn, and they continue to argue down any compliment they are given. Looking back on my education in the fine art of accepting compliments I wondered where people get the idea that it is a good idea to argue with someone who has a something good to say about you. One would think, with pride being such an easy sin to commit, that we would need to be teaching our youth the etiquette of accept compliments without letting it go to your head. So why do we have the near pathological urge to refute anything positive anyone has to say about us? I think, in our culture at least, it may have some basis in the idea that ‘lifting yourself up in pride’ is a bad idea. We avoid it by doing what we think is the opposite- we put ourselves down.
There are two things arguing over compliments can do, it can force the compliment giver to insist on their compliment, and heap more praise upon the compliment receiver, or it can communicate that compliment receivers holds themselves in low-esteem, which is to say they are not proud. Both ways of refuting compliments are bad ideas, but it is the second way which brings out the danger of negative definitions. Just as not all rectangles are squares, not all absences of pride are humility. To quote C.S. Lewis:
By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense they cannot succeed in believing it. The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 14.
Even if we all manage to agree that putting yourself down isn’t the road to humility, we still have yet to come up with a definition of humility that is positive, concrete, and useful. The best I can come up with is this- in John 8:29 Jesus says:
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone for I do always those things that please him.
in other words, the key to humility is to defer to the Father. In practice I’d think that the best way to do this is to cultivate gratitude towards God for whatever talents or blessing you may enjoy. This is probably best done privately because few people can pull off responding to a compliment with praise to God without sounding weird.