Humility: More Attractive than Wealth, Status or Botox
We tamed the heartless giant in part 4 of this series. For the next ingredient in our recipe for a good marriage let’s add:
A generous portion of humility …
I spend so much time writing about narcissism that today I thought it only fair that I give some time to it’s opposite (and positive) quality instead.
Humility is one of the least understood virtues – but when it comes to having a happy marriage, is one of the most important.
What is Humility and How is it Best Developed in Our Nature?
This question has undoubtably been studied by theologians in history more than scientists or scholars.
But church isn’t always a good place to go looking for humility.
I am sad to say a large many women who come to Steve and I for help (with the private abuse they suffer in their marriages) are married to pastors and ministers.
The pulpit it would seem can be an occupational hazard for a person’s ego and sense of entitlement and superiority.
And psychological dysfunction is not limited to the pulpit: praying about how lowly and worthless we are before God (as I have often heard people do in church), is probably just as unhealthy as an overweening ego.
It seems that in searching for the steps necessary to develop humility, we enter a hall of mirrors just as complex as when we start trying to spot our own selfishness and egotism.
For to begin the development of humility in ourselves, first we must recognize how important we are.
Because just as I highlighted in our story last week …
Our conscience knows what is right and how much there is on this planet that needs doing and that we are all really here to help each other. But unfortunately our instinctive and passionate emotional nature often waylay us in the heat of the moment.
Back to religion: I have never quoted religious texts on this site before but today I want to share what I have recently learned about humility from The Book of James. And so first I feel I should give a bit of an explanation for this to my readers who are not Christians.
I grew up with a father who was an American fundamentalist protestant (who voted Republican) and a mother who was a non church going Australian, Church of England (Democrat), and so I learned very early that outside of church or the class room there are good reasons you don’t talk about religion or politics!
My work has, and always will be science based, but I believe the study of human qualities and particularly ethics (such as humility) and social problems based on immorality (such as narcissism) are subjects that historically, as much as in the present day, must by necessity draw on religious and philosophical wisdom.
So as not to offend anyone or create unnecessary religious prejudice or debate I could simply reword the information I want to share with you today without giving reference to it’s source, but how humble would that be and who am I to claim to be an authority on humility?
And more importantly, who can claim to be an expert on humility?
It was my search for an answer to this very question that brought me to the author of The Book of James in The Bible (not the apostle James) as a very intriguing historical personality.
No one questions that James was most likely the brother of Jesus, or that Jesus actually gave it to James to carry on his ministry when Jesus departed.*
None the less James’ role as a teacher and church leader was eventually taken over by Peter and Paul (a man who never met Jesus) as founders of a church that sometimes put more emphasis on the divine authority of Jesus’ representatives on earth than the teachings of humility and service to our fellow men that the early Christian church was founded on.
If you are interested in my sources for this claim and much more information about Jesus’ brother James – I suggest you watch the very interesting BBC series The Secret Family of Jesus with Professor Robert Beckford.
There is also some historical evidence that Joseph of Aramathia and Jesus brother James were one in the same person.
That is a controversial claim and I suggest you watch the movie linked above (if you are interested in learning more about James from a historian who really loves him) and you can decide for yourself if you want to believe that claim – but I should explain why I felt it important to mention this here …
My point is that Joseph of Aramathia was a tin merchant and traveller and a very wealthy and influential man – and whether he was one and the same man as James, Jesus’ brother, or rather Jesus’ uncle — as is more commonly taught in history — James and Joseph were at the very least very close traveling companions. Yet James taught unequivocally the very lowly role that the rich play in this life compared to the poor.
So if we can leave all religious differences aside – lets for a moment look at The Book of James as a historical document written by a man who could easily have put himself above the people around him by reason of wealth, occupation and genealogy, yet didn’t.
The Book of James was in fact left out of The Bible for many years – perhaps because its teachings on humility irked the scholars, theologians, monarchs and church leaders who continued to use wealth and privilege as a means of asserting their own status and divine right to rule over others?
So in my simple layman’s interpretation – lets see what the brother of Jesus and teacher of early Christian values had to say on the subject of humility …
1. Consider it pure joy when you face trials in your life – because trials teach you perseverance, which is necessary for you to fully mature and be complete as a person.
2. The poor should take pride in their high position in life and the rich in their low position, for the glory of wealth is as temporary as the beauty of a wildflower.
3. That all true wealth comes from above (so is spiritual in nature and based on qualities of character) and not from material possessions.
4. That we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.
5. That we should constantly watch our tongue so as not to judge or gossip about other people.
6. That we should not show favoritism or give priority to people who are wealthy or privileged.
7. That we should know and accept that we will be judged by other people — and so do our best to be a good person — while at the same time keeping a vigilant watch on ourselves (and our tongues) not to judge other people.
8. That we should not emulate wealthy people, for they are the people who most often exploit the vulnerable.
9. That rich oppressors should weep and wail (and presumably ask forgiveness and make restitution) for hoarding their wealth and not fairly paying the people whose labor they exploit to make them wealthy.
10. Don’t swear oaths but simply say yes or no to what you will and will not do. (Note: James says this is the most important advice he has for us).
11. Do not grumble about each other.
12. Confess our sins (wrong doings) to each other and pray for each other, because truly wishing each other well is what will cause our own healing.
Okay so there is probably a lot more I could find in this incredible historical document, but there is certainly enough personal development work here to get us started and on the right track for most of a lifetime.
In such astoundingly good advice – is there really anything I can add to this?
Not much more than James says himself which is that it is not enough to talk about it or think about it – instead we really need to do these things.
The only thing I would personally add is that it is the selfish and narcissistic side of ourselves that puffs itself up – but deep down in reality this part of us truly fears that we are worthless.
Because in reality it is only when we accept just how important and urgent our work is on this planet that we get in touch with our true humility. Yet no matter how important (and I would even say vital) the work that is in front of us is – still we are not here to put ourselves above anyone else.
Instead we are here to help each other in the right way. And although we will often be judged by people who can’t see our hearts true motives, we should still do our best to genuinely wish the people around us well.
James says the reward for this is being “lifted up by God”. That is a euphemism that has probably lost some meaning over time: but back to behavioral social science and neurobiology – these kind of empathetic actions and the self monitoring and reframing involved in the advice James gives – will certainly cause us to form deep and long lasting attachments to a few people we will hold dear throughout our lives – even if some other people put us down and don’t understand us.
So whether you are looking for the “crown of life” (as James calls our reward for this work), or simply a great home life and marriage – the daily practice of humility is a step you should not overlook in your personal development.
How many of us try and emulate the rich? I suggest instead we look to establish a ‘new style’ in respectability.
More on that soon but for now …
in the now historical and memorable words of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,
“Be excellent to one another.”
* Correction: As was pointed out to me in the comments here – the Catholics do dispute that James was Jesus brother and believe he was a cousin of Jesus instead. What I really should have said in this paragraph was that no one disputes that it was James (who Jesus called his brother) and not the apostle James who was the author of the book of James in the Bible.