Thoughts on Humility

He is wrong. He is absolutely wrong. He is wrong because he caused me pain and suffering. I’m going to teach him a lesson and make sure that he does not repeat this horrible offense. How many of us have felt this way before? It’s worse when we justify ourselves and convince ourselves to exact revenge. We believe that through revenge we may attain justice. Revenge seeks gratification and instils a false feeling of empowerment. A person who seeks revenge seeks to instil hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. Therefore, morally, the victim’s status is reduced to that of the perpetrator since now the victim becomes the perpetrator. But justice cannot be served through revenge. Justice is rational, impersonal, and seeks a beneficial solution for both the victim and the aggressor. Vengeance is rooted deeply in an emotional response arising mainly due to anger.

Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. In fact anger is a primitive protective emotion. We use anger to protect us from harm or a loss of something valuable. Our heart rate, arterial tension, and dopamine release increases to give a response similar to the fight or flight response. Fight or flight is an innate characteristic to protect us from harm by either negating it or running away. The leading cause of anger is based on the person’s environment. It may be formed by unresolved grief, suppressed feelings or emotional needs, or an extremely high need for control. When a couple was driving the wife started tidying the compartments. Immediately, the husband snapped at her and said, “that’s enough.” He, ashamed of his outburst, refused to apologize. Upon introspection he realized that this was not an isolated incident. In fact, he realized that they had opposite qualities. She was neat, tidy, and very particular about the children while he was more relaxed and not as tidy. His anger arose from a feeling of unworthiness and inadequacy. It was his perception of his image as a failure when compared to his wife that caused pain. A person’s past experiences and perception of themselves contributes to triggers of anger. Other contributing factors are current vulnerability and magnitude of the perceived threat. Each person has a set of core values and when behaving according to these values the person has low vulnerability. When the person acts against those values, a sense of guilt arises. On an irrational basis the person may focus this guilt on others instead of finding the true cause. The person starts to behave purely on ego, that is, how others perceive them. The person’s vulnerability increases. Since it is based on other’s perceptions, one is forced to defend that ego with more resentment, anger, and actions that go against the core values. This builds and results in anger at stimuli of minor magnitude. We see a recurring theme in the cause of anger, that is, self perception and self esteem.

Self is an illusion. According to psychologists there is no single place in the brain that generates a self. In fact, there is only an ever shifting bundle of thoughts, feelings, and memories that contributes to the perception of self. This perception is an attempt by the brain to make sense of thoughts and occurrences in the world. It is a concept of I and me. We perceive that we are individual and separate entities in this world; that is the existential self. Awareness of the existential self arises in part due to the relation we have during childhood with the world. For example, when a child smiles and we smile back, the child begins to establish a relation with the world. The brain is attempting to make sense of what’s happening. Three components of self are image, self esteem, and ideal self. Self image is how we see ourselves currently. We can describe how we perceive ourselves either based on our physical description, personality traits, social roles, or an abstract manner in terms of spiritual or existential. Self esteem is how much we value ourselves. Factors influencing our self esteem are reaction of others, comparison with others, social roles, and identification. The ideal self is how we would like to be. However, this perception and our self image may be very different. This incongruence may create a sense of inadequacy. The Europeans upon invasion of North America were astonished at the Iriquois tribe. The Iriquois also conducted trade among various tribes. However, their trade was more of a social gathering and took in the interests of both parties. Also, the concept of community was greater than the concept of self. How we perceive ourselves influences our reactions towards the environment.

How we value ourselves influences our thoughts and deeds. Uzziah was a powerful and just king. He ruled from the age of sixteen until the age of fifty two. Initially during his reign he was faithful to God. Seeking God’s help, he expanded the kingdom from Jerusalem to Philistine and even to the edges of Egypt. He became very powerful and popular. But Uzziah became proud and power clouded his faith. He stormed into the temple and decided to offer incense by himself without the priests, however, he was smitten with leprosy and remained a leper until his death. Pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool. When Uzziah became powerful he forgot that God gifted him his riches and opportunities. Uzziah convinced himself that only he was responsible for his gain. We all know the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he prayed in comparison to the tax collector. His prayer was riddled with the concept of how good he was and how bad others were. He was full of what he perceived as his own goodness. However, the tax collector was meek and realized his true self as a sinner. The Pharisee forgot that he too was a sinner and the only good one is God. Pride instils in us a desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures.

Humility is as John Chrysostom said, “the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtues.” It is the core value we need. Core values are guiding principles that dictate behaviour and action. Humility is more than meekness and being modest. Humility is having a realistic sense of who we are before God and others. As it says in Romans 12:8, “for by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”   Humility is submission to God’s will. At times events do not occur as we plan and hope. Anger and frustration leads to consequences. But then how are we different from those who persecuted Jesus? When we say, not thy will but mine be done, how are we different from those who feared Jesus. They feared His power and acted against Him because their will was not working and they feared a loss of power. We must have faith in Him in order to submit to Him and accept His will. It requires an understanding of our real self. We are all sinners before God. Our perceptions and experiences are all unique. At times, when others hurt and cause suffering we feel anger. However, it takes humility and faith to understand others actions and act accordingly in the best interest of justice.

Christ suffered at the hands of those He wanted to save. That is the greatest humiliation, when those you are trying to help are the same people who are hurting you. After his conviction a crown of thorns was placed on his head, a robe was tied around him, and the soldiers mocked and harassed Him. These events served as a test of Jesus’ faith and dedication to His people. It was a test of His love. He tells his apostles on the Mount of Olives, “the spirit is ready, but the flesh is weak.” He was able to overcome these humiliations due to a strong faith in God’s Will. Jesus was always humbling himself. He refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.” It is mentioned 43 times in the New Testament and with the exception of two times, each instance is by Jesus. The Son of Man means “the human one”. In the case of Jesus, it is a self-effacing self reference. He repeatedly lowers himself and refuses to exalt himself. Jesus is more concerned with how God works through him than who he really is. Through this expression Jesus reiterates not only who Jesus is, but also who the Son of Man is. In another instance, when the apostles squabble at who is greater Jesus refers to a master and servant where the master sits at the table and the servant serves the master. In Luke 22:27 it is written that Jesus says, “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth.” Jesus wills us to use him as an example and to be more like Him. A leader is more effective when he takes initiative and behaves as the role model rather than dictating and forcing others. Likewise, Jesus humbled himself in order for us to humble ourselves and to rid our ego. He was one without ego.

We are all doubters. We question and seek justification. Therefore, if someone merely orders us and blatantly established a fact we wouldn’t bother to heed. Jesus had to be an example for us to follow Him. Jesus suffered humiliation far greater than what we may ever suffer. He suffered physical pain and separation from God when he was tortured and crucified. We may analyze the psychological effect of facing crucifixion. In Deuteronomy 22:22-23 it says, “And if man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death and thou hang him on a tree, His body shall not remain all night upon the tree but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day for he that is hanged is accursed of God.” Only those who committed grave offences were crucified since after the crucifixion even the land that they used had become unworthy and it was necessary to immediately remove their body from the place and bury it. Furthermore, they were accursed of God. Jesus knowingly submitted to the humiliation. He suffered crucifixion which was the cruellest and most shameful method of capital punishment even though he was sinless. Further evidence of his love arises when he forgives the robber who pleads to Him on the cross. He forgave someone who was seemingly worthy of the cross. He forgave someone who we would have judged unworthy of forgiveness. Furthermore, Jesus after suffering pain still utters these words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Only Jesus has the authority to forgive. Knowing his role and his purpose, Jesus was able to forgive those who inflicted pain on Him. He emulates God’s love for us. He shows the mercy of God. He was able to forgive them because he was humble, knew his role, was without ego, and willed for God’s Will to be done. When we are filled with pride and convince ourselves that we know and things must occur according to our plans we go against Him. We are not different from those who tortured Jesus if we continue to disobey his greatest teachings. He taught us to “love one another as I have loved thee.” In order to realize true love we must witness His suffering. He is our example of unfailing love, which even in unthinkable circumstances did not falter. Let us cry to our Lord as the sinner on the cross that He may forgive us and that we may see Him in all His glory.