Posted on

A hope note

Humility gets a bad rap in our day. We associate it with low self-esteem, passivity, weakness, Caspar Milquetoast and humble pie.
Humility and humus come from the same root word. Humus is the good, rich earth beneath us. We buy big bags of it to enrich our gardens. What binds us humans together, the high and the low, is that, as funerals remind us, we all come from humus and to humus we shall all return.
When we forget that we’re humus, we run the risk of committing what the ancient Greeks considered the greatest sin, the sin of hubris. They defined hubris with stories of people who felt their oats so much that they forgot they were humus.
Sometimes that happens to people who come into political power. If you’re the President or the Governor, and millions have cast their vote for you and smile at you and applaud you and are deferential toward you, it must be easy to feel like you can do what you will, because you’re the king of the world. That’s hubris.
One of the most poignant moments in the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ is the one when a drunk Nazi is sitting with Schindler on a balcony and picking off Jews with his high-power rifle, just for sport, gleefully shooting them like fish in a barrel. When the drunk comments about the power he has to kill arbitrarily, Schindler tells him, ‘That’s not power. True power is when you have the license and the power to kill, and don’t.’
Hubris uses power to promote self and exploit others. Humility is virtuous when it leads us to identify with and stand in solidarity with and help others who, like us, are humus.