The long-forgotten virtue

Published 5:03 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

By Scott Baker

My wife and I have just one child; a son named Ian. We knew from the time that he was three that he would be an only child. Having an only child brings with it both blessings and challenges. One of the challenges we faced early on was the concern (fear?) of raising a spoiled-rotten child. With that concern in our minds we developed a mantra of sorts that we would repeat to Ian time and time again, “Ian, it’s not all about you. There are other people in the world.” After about eight or 10 years of hearing this mantra, we hope that we have raised a rather selfless young man who is keenly aware of the world in which he inhabits and others around him.

As I reflected on our parenting, I was put in mind of a little recognized virtue that gets paltry attention in our world — humility. One of my favorite Christian writers, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility isn’t thinking less of oneself, but rather, thinking of oneself less.”

In our world of social media, much of our posts, tweets and Instagrams all seem to have a single focus — me, myself and I! We seem to have no limits to our self-aggrandizement. The counter-cultural power of Christianity, and most other religions for that matter, is to challenge us to turn our focus to those around us and see ourselves in a less self-centered way.

Not only is this counter-cultural, it’s counter to our nature. We are hardwired for self-preservation. We are hardwired to focus on our own wellbeing. As the flight attendant reminds us every time we fly, “Be sure to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” However, one of the pillars of the Christian faith is about growing out of our self-concern and turning our focus on others. However, humility isn’t about outward focus alone, but rather, also about our very beings. All too often we wish to distract ourselves with doing and neglect our being. We can be one of the most philanthropic people in the world and still be very proud and conceited at the same time.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that the pursuit of humility is a lifelong struggle. It is a process that we have to intentionally engage in and devote our energy to doing. Certainly, we all start at just where we are, but as a friend of mine once quipped, “God calls you exactly where you are but doesn’t leave you there for long.”

Perhaps at no other time in recent history is the long-forgotten virtue of humility needed more than now. At the end of our pursuit, we find ourselves all the richer. As the medieval theologian and mystic Meister Echart wrote, “The less there is of self, the more there is of self.”

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.