Reflections on Humility

Author: Susan Rose

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Over the last several years, I’ve given much thought and soul-searching to the visceral experience of self-inflation and self-devaluation. They are Siamese twins. This certainly isn’t an original or new idea, but wow, if you commit to actually monitoring this inside, it’s humbling and painful. I like to think of myself as open and compassionate. Well, sometimes this is true. But sometimes it isn’t.

I came from a family that behind closed doors was arrogant and superior. Actually, this was more visible in public than my folks would have imagined, but in their minds, their inflated opinions about our family of four was justified. No surprise that under the inflation was insecurity that was never resolved or acknowledged: the aforementioned Siamese twins under the rug. I wrote a poem about this theme in 2015:

                Sitting in a Soup Bowl

Sitting in a soup bowl of arrogance,

I am pleased.

The soup is still warm.

I might splash a little,

So don’t come too close.

See how spicy and rich my soup is?

I made it myself

With an old family recipe.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I have been thinking about what this means to me. It means doing the hard work involved on the path to real humility. How fortunate those people are, those who live without self-inflation or self-deprecation! Comparisons with others, feeling “better than” or “worse than” someone else interferes with so much. And I have been reflecting on the Siamese twin aspect of humility and compassion. How can a person experience true compassion if that person feels either superior or inferior to others?

Behaving with fairness, care and consideration is important and valuable, when we can find it in ourselves do this, particularly when we are angry or disappointed. But then, the next level of possible transformation involves noticing how we really feel towards the person who has upset us. Whew. This is a real challenge. It means noticing every petty, vengeful or condescending thought that crosses our minds and tightens our guts. Most of us don’t share this with others, and sometimes we don’t even acknowledge this to ourselves. We want to be better than this.

One can behave in a compassionate way, “do the right thing”, yet have emotional baggage that is contrary to the constructive behavior. “Poor in spirit” is a deeper and more vulnerable dimension of engagement with self and others. It takes soul-searching and hard work. It is a real challenge to acknowledge one’s own flaws without self-hatred, to correct them as best one can, and to pray for help. And yet I know I will make other mistake or misjudgment when I least expect it. Being awake and human is challenging, and a life-long project.

Leave Comment