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No sympathy for those who suffer the humiliation of victory

Sat., April 10, 2010

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with people who find it “humbling” when something excellent happens to them.

Case No. 1: Director Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. Then she called it “a humbling experience.”

Case No. 2: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi finally won the big vote. Then she declared she was “humbled today to act with the support of millions of Americans who recognize the urgency of passing health care reform.”

No, I am not upset about health care reform, nor am I brooding over an “Avatar” loss. I’m upset about this ridiculous, faux-modest, 180-degree backward use of the word “humble.”

Let me make this clear: Victory does not humble you. Failure humbles you. Disaster, preferably of your own making, humbles you. Abject humiliation humbles you (the words come from the same Latin root, humilis).

To recap: Winning an Oscar can’t humble you. Being caught committing adultery with several dozen cocktail waitresses and then crashing your SUV in your own driveway, that humbles you.

Although unless I missed it, that guy hasn’t popped the “humble” word yet.

No, in America, we’re only humbled by success. Pelosi took this to an even more farcical extreme by saying that she was both “proud and humbled,” which is, to my mind, a lot like being both sober and schnokkered.

So we have plenty of faux humility in America these days, but not nearly enough of the real thing. This is an odd state of affairs, since, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we have more than ever to be humble about.

We could use a lot more genuine humility, but instead, the prevalent American mental state right now has swung the other direction, toward narcissism and solipsism.

Solipsism – that’s a word that we should all learn, in these days of blogging, texting and tweeting our every action and thought. It means, according to my Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “the theory that the self can be aware of nothing but its own experiences and states.”

Admit it. You know a few solipsists, don’t you? They’re the ones who think that every meal they eat, every movement they make and every idea they have, however banal, should be as fascinating to you as it evidently is to them. (Hmm. They sound a lot like newspaper columnists.)

I would love to launch a campaign right here, right now, against rampant narcissism and solipsism. But I fear that such a campaign is doomed to fail in an increasingly self-obsessed world.

So right now, I’ll settle for a more modest, achievable and, need I add, humble goal: encouraging people to use a more accurate word when they win an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, the office NCAA pool or that special company parking space.

Try this on for size: “Thank you for naming me Employee of the Month. I am honored, pleased, blessed, over-the-moon, thrilled, wildly ecstatic and most of all, extremely lucky. I am not however, humbled. I was humbled last month, when someone else won.”

Reach Jim Kershner at or (509) 459-5493.

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