Pastor Steve Bush started his sermon this morning talking about humility that is bold and courageous. Those 3 words stuck with me and connected to some other thoughts that had been bouncing around in my head recently. Chief among those was this C.S. Lewis quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”. I have to admit this is counter-intuitive to folks in my generation as I grew up in the ’80’s and it was all about us! Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that self-interest is a great driver for our economy a la Adam Smith and Gordon Gekko. There is a definitely something to be said for pursuing what you love and never working a day in your life but I also think there is a dark side to that point of view as well.
There is a slippery slope when we begin to allow ourselves the latitude to value only those things we think are “fun” or “worth our efforts”. I think this is why so many people fail to quote Smith accurately and omit the word “rational” from self interest in that context. Smith, as most thinkers were in that day, was sort of a polymath, and most do not realize that his first few works were focused on ethics and charity, not purely economics. He saw that we are all connected and that, essentially, “a rising tides raises all boats”. There is much more we can glean from Smith but, alas, that is for another day.
Initially it is hard to reconcile bold, courageous, and humility all in the same sentence because they don’t really “fit” together.
Bold – necessitating courage and daring; challenging
Courageous – the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Humility – not proud or arrogant; modest
Can a person be humble, yet bold and courageous? I think it is quite possible…they KEY is what drives the person to act! If the person is driven to action for the benefit of others, then we would see someone exhibiting a bold and courageous humility. There is a long list of people who would fit this description. (People like, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, & Dietrich Bonhoeffer just to name a few.) People who act for the greater good sometimes without regard for their own safety.
So does this mean that us regular folks could not also act with a bold and courageous humility? I think we can but I also think it takes breaking out of the “me” mindset that is supported and touted by western society! I am not talking about denouncing anything or swearing off money. Simply examining our motivators when it comes to our actions and ensuring that we are acting from the core of who we are and not just thinking about “what’s in it for me” all of the time. The great college basksetball coach John Wooden‘s leadership philosophy was cited in this article by Michael Lee Stallard which focused on the following 3 components:
- Caring for the people you lead.
- Teaching and developing their character and competence
- Maintaining the attitude that a life not lived for others is a life not lived.
I think you would agree that someone who focused on these 3 things would clearly exhibit bold, courageous humility. It would be bold and courageous because society would not necessarily view this as “right” because we are all about what we want and how things look…we are very concerned about the “optics”. We need the right house, the right car, the right salary, the right “stuff”. Unfortunately we are concerned much more with the “what” than the “how” and that is my point. Leaders (and anyone who influences someone else is a leader) must focus more on the “how”. The end does not justify the means. We cannot continue to pursue goals regardless of the cost. I would argue that if we select the “right ” goals, they always present us with the right “how”.
For many years I chased all of the wrong things for the wrong reasons…in fact I am not sure I even had a reason. I was used to “winning”, and that was the only objective. I convinced myself that thinking about what job I wanted and being self-fulfilled would somehow trickle down and be better for my family as well…what a joke! Several years ago I had an epiphany and that was there were only two jobs on this earth that God had put me here to do and those were to be a husband to my wife and a father to my children. As Lewis said, “don’t think less of yourself, think of yourself less”. The funny thing is that this brought me freedom because I was now focused outwardly and things became much clearer to me. I no longer agonized about what other’s thought because I was thinking about what was best for those I cared about and when that was the goal, the decisions flowed effortlessly.
The best closing I can offer is this link to a TED talk by Coach Wooden on his thoughts on the difference between winning and success. He was 90 years old at the time it was recorded and his clarity is amazing. It is a testimony to a life spent focused on refining his vision and pursuing it relentlessly…we should all be so lucky!