July 14, 2007 in Features

Humility can bring a healthy balance to our lives

Paul Graves Correspondent

Less than a month after being sworn in as mayor of Sandpoint in January 2000, I testified before a state House legislative committee in Boise on a local transportation issue.

After giving my testimony, I had lunch with the executive director of the Idaho Association of Cities.

I didn’t know Ken Harward well at that point, though we became good friends. But apparently he had done some research on who I was.

So when I ‘fessed up to some nervousness about being a new mayor, he offered this affirmation: “You’ll do just fine, because you believe less in the love of power and more in the power of love.”

I remember that lunch visit quite often. It helps keep me better centered on what I believe is so important.

Harward’s words were more than just a clever turn of phrase. They are a regular reminder to me that while hubris seems more in style these days, it is humility that serves us all much better.

“Hubris.” I like the sound of the word, but I don’t like what it means: arrogance.

Hubris is being used more frequently in recent years, perhaps because it does sound better than arrogance. But the word’s sound can’t cover up the destructive potential of its meaning.

The current Sojourner magazine quotes Albert Einstein as saying: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

Did you miss the deeper truth in those words? Read it again, and let that truth percolate inside you for a time.

For my purpose today, let me suggest that arrogance has contributed to most of the “significant problems” in our society, starting in our hearts. A different level of thinking – insert “humility” here – is needed to transform those problems.

In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul reminds his friends: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking. …” (Romans 12:03)

Actually, the whole 12th chapter of Romans speaks well of how to balance hubris and humility. It might be worth spending some time with it.

Part of the reason for today’s look at arrogance and humility is to offer you one more way to evaluate both the 2008 presidential “pre-primary” campaign and other national political issues.

Also, our communities are entering a fall election season for city council and mayoral positions. How do you evaluate those candidates?

The political arena is fascinating to many of us. Yet it is also a source of great distress when elected officials and other policymakers choose to protect their own self-interests over seeking solutions that serve the community, particularly the most vulnerable citizens in that community.

I believe humility represents a deeper level of thinking about public service than we normally see in public policy decisions.

As a character trait, humility is too often represented as another word for “weakness.” But it takes great strength to keep your self-interest and public interest in a healthy balance.

That healthy balance is what humility best exemplifies.

To not think of yourself more highly than you should doesn’t mean you should not think of yourself at all. It means keep your life in a balance where your soul is fed by how you treat others respectfully, caringly, responsibly.

It also means you are nourished in deeper ways by how you connect to your God.

That could, however, prompt a nettlesome question: Just who is your God?

For people of faith and for people with no expressed faith, that question gets tricky at times. Not one of us is beyond the clutches of our own arrogance even as we identify God in our lives.

Fortunately, neither are we beyond the grace-filled embrace of humility as we wrestle with our desire to replace God with our own judgment.

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