If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Saturday 13 October 2012
Read gnomica 1-150 here!
Don’t be humble, you’re not that great.
Golda Meir (3 May 1898 – 8 Dec 1978)
How can you not like the chutzpah of this hard-nosed politician – Prime Minister (1969-1974) of Israel?
The word ‘humble’, coming into English from Latin humilis ‘low(ly), slight’, is etymologically related to the Latin humus ‘ground, earth’, and — if you can believe it — is, cognate with Greek chthon [χθών] as in autochthony ‘[the] very earth’, ‘earth itself’ – see my recent posting (gnomica 154).
Humility – being humble – is generally accorded high marks as a desirable quality in a person. It suggests, if you massage its etymological origin, being ‘ground-ed’ as opposed to being all puffed up high with hubris (a Greek word [ὕβρις] with an etymological sense of ‘above, over, [high]’ — cf ὑπέρ > huper > hyper). Of course, as the PM points out, first you have to be something to be humble about. Thus the ‘valorization’ of pride and humility is organized vertically along a metaphorical scale of being, if you will, ‘high and mighty’ at the top and ‘down to earth’ at the other.
In a curious way, then, acting or being humble can in and of itself be a kind of lack of humility, a form of hubris – look at me, how impressed I — given my impressive doings, thoughts, whatever — am not. I bring myself down. And this is of course possible only from a high perch.
We have a phrase in English: ‘false modesty’. You can’t win: if you do show humility (in that, for example, you offer genuinely dismissive comments about praise for your achievement[s]), you might necessarily seem to be implying that you’re so high up there you need to bring yourself down to earth, thereby putting your humility to the lie. And if you boast overtly about whatever, then of course you are flagrantly lacking in humility.
What to do?
Well, the point probably is that most people don’t – like me – overanalyze, even analyze to death every little thing that comes along. As that great analyst Sigmund Freud once sagely noted about the cigar he kept fondling as he sucked away, “Sometimes, gentleman, a cigar is just a cigar, and nothing more.” And so sometimes humility is just humility, and nothing more.
That doesn’t mean that Golda Meir did not have a good point to make. For we –most of us – probably have an innate tendency to think highly of ourselves and maybe we should now and again step back from our lofty perch and have a good, serious look at what it is that makes us in our own tendentious minds so wonderful – and give that a corrective thought or two.
No false humility there!