Introduction to Humility (by a Renowned Egoist)
Part 1 of the humility series
Only a healthy ego allows someone to take the lead in his first play at 16. I did just that. Now, you know who you’re dealing with—an egoist.
Imagine the ego required of an avowed egoist to write a series of chapters on the topic of humility. It’s comparable to Angelina Jolie writing a book on being ugly or Wayne Gretzky opening a clinic for kids who are bad at hockey. When you think about it, the mere act of attempting to write about humility is proof of humility’s absence.
Look a few lines above and see that the opening sentence of this series on humility is a subtle pat on my own back. And that wasn’t on purpose. That’s who I am. I am the kind of person who begins an examination of humility by letting you know I think highly enough of myself to memorize a few thousand words and perform them before a paying audience.
I am also the kind of person who expects people to pay five dollars a month for the privilege of reading my opinion on things. (Well, five dollars a month or just fifty dollars a year, which means you get two months free with an annual subscription!) So, again, why should you read a hopeless egoist’s thoughts on humility?
I’ve asked myself the same question many times. I started writing this piece many times but never finished it. So what happened?
Well, God happened, I guess. I’m not sure. But I’ve heard that God sometimes gives us problems that solve more significant issues, and that’s what happened to me.
I decided to move my blog from a self-hosted system to Substack a few months ago because I won’t go here. At Substack’s urging, I reluctantly added a paid subscription tier to my account. I didn’t think anyone would pay to read my stuff.
But I was wrong.
Within a day, I had over 20 paid subscribers, and the number has been rising every week since then.
That might not sound like a problem, but it became a problem when I committed to doing Exodus 90.
My blog is usually somewhat topical, focusing on events and news of the day. But Exodus 90 entails a 90-day break from social media and web browsing. When my blog was free, I felt no qualms about letting it idle for a few months. But now I have paying customers who deserve some output.
I was praying for a solution when something about humility crossed my mind. Of course, I wasn’t thinking about humility at the time, but “humility” struck me as a solution to my information supply shortage.
I decided that my premium content during Exodus 90 would include that long piece on the topic of humility I’d wanted to write. I blogged about my idea and received incredibly positive feedback and support from my subscribers. So, thanks be to God, that problem was solved.
But, sometimes, when God opens a door, He closes a window. As a result, a new problem emerged, and it’s the problem identified at the top of this introduction: who am I to write about humility?
Perhaps we will find the answer to that question together. Over the next eleven weeks, I will post one weekly “chapter” on the subject of humility. I do not yet know where this will lead, and I am not trying to sketch an outline in advance. Critics see that I do not plan my writing. I just write. Something bothers me, and I write about it. Something enthralls me, and I write about it. I feel bored, so I am writing. I rarely know how a post will end until I get there. And I have no idea how this will end, either.
This series may with, “I have no idea. Sorry.” Which might be the perfect ending for a series on humility. Here’s why.
I am beginning to suspect that humility is the default state of saints and angels and the nearly impossible state of human nature. Humility looks like the opposite of what the human race does best—the negation of humanity often referred to as pride.
Our modern society treasures pride. We have given pride very friendly-sounding names. Business-friendly names. Names that make pride sound, not like the trigger of the fall of man, but the magic formula for the making of a man. Ambition, achievement, success, and even one I am very guilty of using: self-governance. We’ll call these the business-class euphemisms.
Or the other sort of pride we here more often directed at the young: “Be yourself.” “You’re good enough just as you are.” “Pursue your passion.” And, worst of all, “Live your truth.” These would be the self-esteem euphemisms.
If only we’d listened to G.K. Chesterton.
Published in 1908, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, an Anglican convert to Catholicism, introduced us to the picture of pride and the value society places on pride, to wit:
Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell." I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted, "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the man who has it has 'Hanwell' written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus." And to all this my friend the publisher made this very deep and effective reply, "Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?" 1
You have no idea what a relief it to read that paragraph, and I have read it a thousand times. I am the actor who can’t act, the debtor who won’t pay, the drunken poet with a dreary tragedy on yellowing pages in the desk drawer to my left. By the grace of God, though—and only by His grace—I most assuredly do not believe in myself.
Until I read Orthodoxy, I accepted the world’s assessment that my self-doubt limited me and explained so many failings. Even in grade school, every report card included at least once the phrase, “If only he would apply himself.”
“Why apply myself to a losing proposition,” I thought. Or, as a line from the theme song to M*A*S*H put it:
The game of life is hard to play; I’m gonna lose it anyway, The loosing card I’ll someday lay, So listen to me when I say . . .
You might call me a defeatist, but I saw it differently. Even in first grade, I had a sense of death. Imminent death. Not my own, but my mom’s, my grandma’s, and occasionally, my dad’s. Thoughts of their deaths mocked me when I lay in bed and sent me into near-fits in school.