The Virtue of Humility
Carlos Madrazo – Indonesia Humility (in Indonesian, kerendahan hati and Putonghua, qiangong) is a virtue that was taught by the early Christians to their descendants because it was the act that exemplified Jesus life. The early Christians were ostracized and had to sustain their low profile in society through humility just as Jesus did during his life and ministry on earth.
Carlos Madrazo – Indonesia
Humility (in Indonesian, kerendahan hati and Putonghua, qiangong) is a virtue that was taught by the early Christians to their descendants because it was the act that exemplified Jesus life. The early Christians were ostracized and had to sustain their low profile in society through humility just as Jesus did during his life and ministry on earth.
For many Christians who to this day survive from just above to below the poverty line in different societies, humility remains a virtue for them to survive while suffering deep inside them a life of continued humiliation in this age of globalization. Poverty, which is a man-made phenomena that started since the dawn of civilization and continues to contemporary times, is perhaps God’s design to make mankind recognize humility. In this sense, out of poverty comes humiliation and from humiliations comes humility and after that all other virtues follow according to a Jesuit priest – James B Reuter.
Opposed to humility is pride [in Indonesian, kebanggaan and in Putonghua, zihoo]. Interestingly, pride gives a person a sense to aspire, to excel, to exploit and extract from others for one’s benefit and thus become rich either thru truthful and honest exercise of her/his wisdom or simply by dominating and taking advantage of others. From riches comes honor and recognition that exemplifies pride. Again the same Jesuit thinker said that after pride – all other vices follow.
Generally, the Asians who make up three quarters of the world’s poor are gifted with the virtue of humility because they have always been victims of historical circumstances of the making either of others or themselves. Almost all of their countries except Thailand, have been colonized by Europeans and the hardworking poor Asians continue to suffer from the humiliation from their own people; the elite of their societies.
When the consciousness of nationalism emerged to defeat foreign colonial powers, pride became a preeminent virtue. Perhaps the only Asian that exemplified humility was a non-Christian, Mahatma Ghandi. He spearheaded a nonviolent movement to drive the British out of the Indian homeland. Jesus’ and Gandhi’s examples in life were emulated by The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights icon.
Contemporary motivation and educational disciplines teach a person to have pride in one’s self and thus aspire for life of abundance as well as riches; one of the elements in Calvinist theology.
Perhaps as one of the cumulative effects of all these experiential and educational processes, humility seems to have been laid aside. Christians around the world and especially those living in countries with market-developed economies take pride in what they do; they trumpet their achievements, their actions and thus have set an example for other Christians to follow especially for those living in market oriented developing economies.
Christians the world over have the tendency to tout their positions in society and institutions and academic accomplishments as well as show off their accumulated wealth and flaunt their opulent lifestyles. In this context, the virtue of humility has lost out to pride. Perhaps one can glean from this the probable reason why someone would want to fight another person – wealth -to grab or defend one’s honor and status in society or the world. This not usual among the privileged families and thus, the distinction between becoming a Christian and a non-Christian does not exist.Expanding this thought would perhaps explain why political leaders of nations continue to create wars (even justify the use of pre-emptive force in the name of achieving “peace”). In doing so, they continue to condemn the innocent victims of their acts of self interest to poverty and/ or in their attempt to defend their national interests and thus exploit others for their own pride and gain. At no time in the history of civilization is humility needed more than in this era of globalization and information technology. There is a need for new visionary leaders in this generation and the generation to come who can conduct themselves with humility even among members of their individual families, organizations, and civil society as a whole. Although using humility as a strategy in pursuit of life is no longer popular, humility is the only virtue that has proven to defeat the banal exploitative nature of some members of the Group of Eight nations, the architects and staunchest advocates of globalization; a 21st century version of colonialization.
Mahatma Ghandi used the virtue of humility almost a century ago to blurt out the sun of the British who once prided their achievement as the “empire where the sun never sets.”
The onslaught of globalization today by much stronger nations and their multinational firms have gobbled up or are still grabbing the resources of poorer countries. Through the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and affiliated banks like the Asian Development Bank, political and business leaders in poor nations desiring to enrich themselves have stacked up their countries with debts that unfortunately only the working poor are tagged to pay.
As such humility as a virtue remains in intact among those who are victimized by the contemporary economies whose participants justify greed and confuse it with human development. The popularity of pride vis-à-vis humility has been helped by the elite in poorer societies because they too want to take pride in being associated with the affluent and the rich in this world.
In Christian communities ironically (even here in this nook of Indonesia where Christians are a tiny minority) the virtue of humility seems to be only good as a sermon theme for many preachers – clergy and laity, who live in the pride of their fiery speeches with little humility to show for it in the way they conduct their lives or relate with their fellow human beings or in the systems they follow to manage their organizations.
C.L. Madrazo, Jr.
Carlos Madrazo is a missionary with the GMIM Synod of the Evangelical Church in Indonesia. He serves as a development worker.