As I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day we began to talk about career aspirations. I asked him if he was planning on being where he was at for a while or if he wanted to move. After a bit of thought he confided in me saying, "My flesh says to leave and find somewhere where I can be in charge. But the still small voice of the Lord keeps saying be the faithful #2."
As I began to think on that, it became apparent to me that those words are so counter-cultural to the world we live in today. The message of our modern world is "make a name for yourself, find somewhere that you can be in charge. You are never meant to be #2"
But that message seems contradictory to the message of Jesus.
"the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. " (Philippians 2:5-8)
What's interesting is this has been a slow shift. "Of the twenty-three men and women who served in Dwight Eisenhower's cabinets, only one, the Secretary of Agriculture, published a memoir afterward, and it was so discreet as to be soporific. But by the Reagan administration rolled around, twelve of his thirty cabinet members published memoirs, almost all of them self advertising." (David Frum)
Our culture has bought into the idea that "I" must be the center of attention. That the world is about me.
The problem is that this overt sense of pride and narcissism has left us blind. Everyone we listen to is saying you are great, don't change. Ellen DeGeneres in a commencement address said, "My advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine." Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love said, "God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are." These are just a couple of the quotes I found about self-entitlement and enrichment. From the Girl Scouts Handbook, to Joel Osteen, the message is "it's all about you."
A bit of humility could do this culture a bit of good.
People that are humble about their own nature are moral realists. Immanuel Kant famously said, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." Humble moral realists are aware that we are all built from "crooked timber". Humility allows us to see our flaws. We are in no way perfect and could all use some improvement
Success leads to the greatest failure: pride. Failure leads to the greatest success: humility and learning.
We must be a people who practice the way of Jesus. Jesus was the greatest servant of all and we must emulate him. Our first instinct cannot be how can I succeed but rather, how can I serve? We must fight what society says is important and fix our focus on what Jesus says is of utmost importance. To live as a follower of Christ is to live contrary to the way of the world. We love those who hurt us. We give generously rather than keeping it for ourselves. We do not seek the spotlight but are content with no one knowing our name.
Humility is the first step into change. People are not innately or automatically humble people. You have to build it with tactic and effort. "At least if we recognize that we sin, know that we are individually at war, we may go to war as warriors do, with something of valor and zest and even mirth."
We must achieve humility by focusing on Jesus and declaring victories over the weaknesses in ourselves.
The problem of pride is not one that is new to our generation, but we have become morally deaf to to our own selfishness. We are no more venal or prideful than people in other times but we have lost the understanding that maybe humility should be something we strive for. David Brooks writes "the 'crooked timber' moral tradition- based on the awareness of sin and the confrontation with sin- was inheritance passed down from generation to generation." But it may have skipped a generation.
In a generation where everyone yells out "me, mine, I!" as loud as they can, a silent worker who seeks no recognition will be heard louder than any voice can cry.
*Photo taken at Muir Woods National Monuement in 2015