Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
When Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest with Tenzin Norgay in 1953, he reportedly took with him a symbol of his achievement. It remains buried somewhere up there at the top of the world. Do you know what it was? A small crucifix.
I don’t know if Edmund Hillary was a religious man or not—but the crucifix was a token of humility. And I think he wanted to honour God in some way, at the moment of his greatest triumph. When I saw this story, I thought about this matter of humility.
What is it? A humble person is an unpretentious and modest person, someone who does not believe that he or she is better or more important than others. But there is a lot of misunderstanding around today, confusing meekness with weakness.
Humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It’s not talked about a lot in the media or celebrated, and it’s not on the top-selling list of topics in books. Perhaps it would help to think about the opposite of humility, arrogance, being number one and self absorption.
If you want to see an excellent example of that look at the performance by Meryl Streep in the film, The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep does her usual brilliant job of acting as she portrays a fashion editor who gives new meaning to the word arrogance. But the movie ends up with the realisation of some more traditional values like the idea that there is more in our world than materialism and greed.
David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, defined himself as a HP man first and a CEO second. He was a man of the people, practising management by walking around. Shunning all manner of publicity, Packard is quoted as saying: “You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.” I think that’s getting closer to what humility is about.
How can we cultivate humility?—I mean the good kind, knowing our limitations, our humanity. For some of us it comes naturally. Cartoonist Charles Schulz wrote, “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, Where have I gone wrong? Then a voice says to me, This is going to take more than one night.”
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It was Albert Einstein who used to say, ”Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted really counts.”
20th-century theologian and scholar Albert Schweitzer said, “The only people who will be truly happy are those who have sought and learned to serve.” And history tells us of many outstanding people who gave of themselves.
How do you want to be remembered? Don’t we want to be remembered for the difference we made for others? For being a servant? For doing deeds of generosity and service for others? For leaving the world a more just and compassionate place to live? For letting God’s light of justice and love shine through us?
Like the fourth grader who, when his Sunday school teacher asked the class Who made you? responded, God made me—but I’m not finished yet.
In both the Old and New Testaments, humility is a major theme, it’s throughout the Bible. What is it? Modesty, lacking pretence—humility.
(To be continued in Showing Humility – Part 2)