Foolishly Forsaking Humility

pharisee-publicanIn 1980 Mac Davis wrote “Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble (if you’re perfect in every way)”  He was not disparaging humility, of course, but having fun with the human tendency to overweening pride and self-importance. Yet ironically, at that very time, the self-esteem movement was championing what he was mocking.

The self-esteem movement proclaimed that humility is an obstacle to mental health. It urged people to love themselves, accept themselves unconditionally, esteem themselves, and banish all feelings of shame and guilt. Those ideas became deeply embedded in American culture. In the course of little more than a decade they became the focus of psychological counseling and self-help publishing, rivaled learning as the aim of education, and became the model for parenting.

As all this was happening, few people noticed and many others didn’t care that the new ideas were displacing a belief that was and remains central to Judaism and Christianity—that humility is essential to mental, intellectual, and spiritual health—as these passages from the Old and New Testaments show:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33

Create in me a clean heart, O God, / And renew a steadfast spirit within me. / Do not cast me away from Your presence / And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. . . . / And sustain me with a willing spirit. . . . A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:1-17

Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. Proverbs 18:12

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility. Zephaniah 2:3

For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest. Luke 9:48

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves . . . Philippians 2:3

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2:3

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

Not only do Judaism and Christianity extol humility. So do Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism. In undermining humility, therefore, the self-esteem movement has disregarded the teaching of virtually every religion in human history, as well as the insights of virtually every great philosopher.

What makes this historic error more shameful and tragic is that it was embraced, not so much by the uneducated, who tended to be guided more by common sense than fashionable theories, but instead by the nation’s intellectual leaders.

Fearing to cause psychic damage, parents have failed to teach their children to distinguish right from wrong and accept responsibility for their actions. Believing that praise alone will bring out the best in students, teachers have failed to provide the guidance students need to recognize and profit from their mistakes. Hoping to create a utopia in which no one’s ego is ever bruised, college administrators, elected officials, and influential media people have fostered Political Correctness, which paralyzes the education process, prevents meaningful debate of the nation’s issues, and encourages frivolous legal actions that prevent genuine justice from being achieved.

It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic example of what Hosea called sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind than America’s mindless embrace of the self-esteem movement. What will it take to make the whirlwind subside? A resurgence of the virtue we have so foolishly forsaken–Humility.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved