Cutting to the chase of humility

Recently quite a bit of my time at work has been taken up with writing the user manual for our R1202 concept.  One of the fingers I was most unsure about including was the index “be humble” finger because I thought it might be a difficult sell, particularly for kids at a Primary School level.

However as we developed things and took input from a fairly broad spectrum of people and educators, the “humble” finger quickly became a non-negotiable part of the package, precisely because it is hard to explain and therefore highlighted the need for greater understanding and awareness.

As it stands at the moment, the humble index finger currently has the most ideas and content of all the different R1202 concepts in the user manual!  Probably because it’s hard work to explain it has sharpened our focus and made us come up with good and innovative ideas.

Something I pondered as we worked on humility is that it is something quite strong in the Australian psyche.  Australia probably has claims to humility as a national trait more than most nations, particularly so if you were to compare the stereotype of the Aussie and the American. 

I’d say both Aussies and Yanks would have a strong claim to another of the fingers on our R1202, namely the ring finger, generosity.  However, while I know it’s a generic stereotype, our American cousins are known for their hoopla, their jitter-bugging and brash self-promotion.  Bring the same modus operandi into an Australian context and it gets pretty short shift, the Aussie generic stereotype being more laconic and self-deprecating. 

If you’ve ever watched the Super Bowl, the concluding game of America’s National Football League (NFL) you’ll know the hoopla and jitter-bugging I’m talking about.  None more so than when the teams take the field, hootin’ and hollerin’, gesturing to the crowd, bashing their chests, high fiving and chest thumping.

Imagine the consternation it would cause if such a display were put on by a team just before the NRL or AFL Grand Final?  Grand Final teams are supposed to be somber, stony-faced, grim as they shoulder arms in the ANZAC tradition and enter sporting “warfare”. 

Yep, the tall-poppy syndrome beats deep within the Aussie breast and  I began to wonder if the tall-poppy syndrome and the “humility” it fosters is something of a double edged sword. 

The tall-poppy syndrome can be quite effective in cutting the self-promoter down to size.  It resonates with some of the sentiment expressed by Jesus, particularly in Luke 14, where he suggested it’s better to take a lowly position at a dinner table and be elevated than to be embarrassed when you assume a prime place and are asked to move to accommodate a more distinguished guest.

He concludes this pointed parable with “For everyone who makes himself important will become insignificant, while the man who makes himself insignificant will find himself important.”  (Luke 14:11). 

Where the tall poppy syndrome becomes a problem is when it enters public life, and the public dialogue, as a scoffing and mocking of those who promote that which is good and excellent.  It becomes a problem when it is wheeled out to cut down the advocates and ambassadors.  The nation which dances to this tune should expect to idle in mediocrity. 

It’s a fine line isn’t it?  The tall poppy syndrome can be useful to keep inflated ego and exaggerated opinions of self-worth in check. 

But it can also become a blunt tool used to bludgeon people who are commendably reaching for high standards.  It’s this second thing that could be a carry-over from Australia’s convict origins.  Often in the national dialogue there seems to be an ingrained cynicism towards authority and a distrust of excellence, and the tall-poppy syndrome gives it voice. 

Clearly advocating humility, as we will be doing, requires a lot of thought and reflection.  What is a good expectation of humility? 

And at what point does the expectation of humility turn into a more sinister undermining of things that should be respected and celebrated?


One Response to Cutting to the chase of humility

  1. MUM SAYS says:

    Advocating humility? In his book Louie Giglio has it right…… I am not . but I know I AM! He describes what I can become when I AM is living in me. Think of that.

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