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Sunday, May 15, 2016

My lessons in humility

I think about humility, probably more than most.  I'm not always sure that's healthy, by the way, in that it would be one thing if I were this raging ego monster that always needed to keep my head from blowing up into extra large proportions, but I don't think that's me.  At least I hope it's not me.  More on ego in a moment.

When I was a kid, I was in a perpetual state of humility.  Growing up in a fairly staunch Catholic family, I was raised to believe that I was in this constate state of sin, some of which (the "original" variety) wasn't even technically related to anything I've actually done myself.  No bother, as I was probably guilty of so many sins via thought that one more for the perpetual road wasn't going to make much difference.  This made, by the way, the confession of sins all the dicier;  I knew I was swimming in sin, so much so that I couldn't remember them all, let alone be able to actually act in accordance with a reasonable accounting of misdeeds (real or otherwise).

The above, by the way, contributed to my last formal religious confession of sins being in 1986.

It's not that I don't believe in the idea of confession; heck, it seems to be a good idea if you ponder it for a bit.  Who wouldn't want to express that which is gnawing at your conscience like a New York City pizza rat?  It seems both reasonable and logical.  So why did I stop and what does this have to do with humility anyway?

To answer that I think it's important to take a side trip down the road called "ego".  The president of my company has talked about his desire for an organization that is exemplified by " drama, low ego...", which I completely understand.  In fact, I remember the first time I heard that quote.  Quite frankly, I was thrilled.  I've always believed that I had a "low ego".  In fact, I can think of many times when my ego has been practically roto-stripped out of existence.  To be fair, I can also think of times, 98% of them being in my professional life when I wasn't acting in the best interests of "low ego".  I try in my life to not dwell on the past, but when I do and these thoughts come up, I am regretful.

Fast forward to now, and I've spent some time studying the works of Eckart Tolle, specifically his thoughts on the nature of ego.  Now I wouldn't consider myself to be a devotee of Herr Tolle, and I wouldn't recommend any of his videos right before bedtime (because you'll fall asleep well before any of them end), but I agree with his basic concept, namely that ego is a corrosive force in our lives and it really does lead to suffering. Mostly our own, but in some very grand ways the lives of others as well.  For me, this becomes a practical matter in that I've learned to detach the concepts of "ego" and "humility".  Humility isn't the absence of ego.  In fact, I can think of many people who are humble but yet likely have enormous egos.  It's not quite the contradiction that it would seem to be when you ponder it (and someone like, for example, U2's Bono) for a moment.

As a matter of personal practice, I don't try to remove ego from my life, mainly because that's almost an egotistical thing to think and do.  I simply recognize it for what it is and try to live accordingly.  This hasn't made me more humble; my humbleness quotient (if there was such a thing) is at about the same level it has always been.  The key difference, at least for me, is that it's become okay to aspire to humility, not because I'm down-trodden and unworthy of doing anything of importance, but because it's simply good for the soul.  The narrative for me now is one of conscience acceptance of who and what I am.  Note the word "conscious", mainly because I do have to work at it.

Another thing I have to work on?  Awareness and management of my feelings when I am around those who may prize their ego and for whom humility is something that is maybe equivalent to a personal weakness or even a show piece that is displayed mostly for effect.  I am admittedly unnerved by such folks.  However, I've learned that my reaction says more about me and my ego than it ever could about anyone else.  Ego isn't just a looking down kind of thing, as it works in the other direction equally well.  That's an easy lesson to understand for me, but far more difficult to apply.

So why haven't I been "back to confession" in 30 odd years?  I respect and admire the tradition of a religious confession of sins, but I've realized that I don't need to feel sorry for my misdeeds in retrospect, as I can (and should) fully do that in almost real time.  An act of religious confession for me only served to distort the real meaning and value of humility.  Being humble isn't something that I need to drag out for an event; rather, it's a conscious decision I need to make about how I live and view the world around me.  I'm not "so good" as to be above the act of confession, but nor am I "so bad" as to be beyond its hope.  Mostly I try to be a good human being; humility simply helps me approach that goal in an intellectually honest manner.        

* * * * * *

What I was listening to on the way back from the gym:

"By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, "I feel my life
Just like a river running through"
(Al Stewart, "Year of the Cat")

Unrelated to humility or ego, mainly just a great song.  And that's good enough.

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