It’s even hard to be humble when you’re not perfect in every way. It's always hard to be humble.
I can think of at least two kinds of humility, both worthy ones. There is the kind I expect most people think about when assessing the genteel qualities of certain people they know or have met, characterized by attention to courtesy, civility, and consideration.
And then there is knowing yourself, and, upon becoming mildly terrified at the glimpses of your own wretched true nature you see in yourself, as you remember your place before God.
I have a vague recollection of a fascinating argument Rush Limbaugh had with a caller some twenty years ago, back then the nation was first getting accustomed to his style. I think the caller may have been a minister. Offended at Rush’s glib characterization of himself as having “talent on loan from God,” the caller sought to bring him to the realization that this was boastful and self-serving.
It was a long time ago, so I only remember that Rush fended him off quite well, though I don’t remember what he said. I do think, however, that one must understand that it’s merely part of Rush’s shtick, and that no one really has the right to be judgmental here. Besides, there’s scarcely something I can abide less than a feigned kind of humility, such as would be the inverse of Rush Limbaugh. I’ll gladly take Rush over that.
I suppose one could call me judgmental for that point of view, so to qualify, I’ m not going to sit here and point out particular instances of feigned humility; I’d even be willing to let Rush’s caller off with a dismissive “he doesn’t get what Rush is doing.”
But then again, if I do too much of that sort of thing, I suppose it could be seen as a feigned humility in me. So rather, what I’d offer as an alternative to the entire arena of what is or is not feigned humility are the two kinds of genuine humility I believe to be worthy of gaining.
The first kind, simply put, is common courtesy and good manners. We could stand more of it in the public square, even when one is put off by the remarks of one’s adversary. William F. Buckley, in my recollection, was a master of this kind of thing. Relentless in his addressing of issues, but always the gentleman. That in itself is a good thing.
Is Miss Manners still writing her column? I don’t think so. I remember one marvelous piece in which she, in the fine tradition of Emily Post before her, laid out the rules of verbal warfare. If someone says something that sounds offensive, you may reply with a simple “I beg your pardon?”, thus admitting to the real possibility that you simply misunderstood him, or, if you didn’t, providing him an easy way to back down from his offense. The next tier of conflict, if a more intense form of defense is required, is to say, “Pardon me.” And the last, the nuclear option, would be to declare, “How dare you!” But never, she wrote, is anything more than this permissible.
But this is not an unabashed advocacy of Miss Manners; I’m merely suggesting that common courtesy is a desired trait to be sought, and one for which I can easily chide myself for not having enough of.
The second kind of humility is more important, and has to do with one’s Christianity. Here we are speaking of a penitential spirit. This kind of humility is elusive, even among us who desire to live by it. An occasional divine intervention of some sort of ‘humbling’ experience is requisite for the learning, or maintenance, or recovery, of the kind of humility that gives way to faith.
This latter kind of humility is not between me and my neighbor, but between me and God, and is therefore intensely personal. So personal, in fact, that it causes most people to forgo confessing their sins to their pastors. Too bad, because the exercise of confession is for the engendering of just such a thing. To retort that it’s so personal that it’s not the pastor’s business is to misunderstand the role of the pastor as one who stands in for God and speaks for Him.
Both types of humility are in short supply, and have been more or less been perennially so, it seems to me. While pleading guilty to being a contributing factor in that phenomenon, at least I can count myself among those who still say that they are needful.