Random Thoughts on Humility Nowadays

The oddest of all virtues, to my mind. It exists to be unnoticed, when it is truly successful. And as for its popularity, one could look around the plethora of articles and rambles decrying the self-absorption encouraged by the advent of social media, personal gadgets, and so on (here’s an example from the Atlantic). The articles are interesting, although often quite unintentionally humorous; in fact, almost as humorous as the consequent denials. 

And one could argue that the rise of self-expression coupled with the increasing access to avenues of such self-expression, along with a comfortable cocoon of friends as your audience, could lead to self-absorption getting a free pass. But I’m not so sure. After all, it’s not as if this is anything quite so new. As I said before, humility is unpopular. It’s the least appealing of all virtues, even less so than temperance (I had to go get a Boatswain Double IPA just upon the mere contemplation of temperance). Self-absorption, whether or not it is now even more observable due to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, what have you, always has been around. We’re just seeing more of it, as before it existed only in people’s heads.

Now, lest I fall into the category of people who claim it’s all right, I think the above article has a fair point. The unprecedented increase in the ability of people to draw crowds in virtual realities has never happened before. And I’m sure my self-regard has not been damaged by the preening profile I often present on Facebook.

But is a virtual reality really that effective in establishing a narcissistic bubble that can be sustained in human interactions? The neurological synapses can be fooled by chemicals inspired by online interactions (think pornography or interactive flash games), but can consciousness, really? By this I do not mean that I think arrogance, or lack of humility, can NOT be amplified by self-absorption online. I just happen to think that a combination of that, and the opposite, which is the exposure to numerous other perspectives and opinions online (even in a close circle of friends) may make the narcissistic or even self-absorbing effects rather ambiguous.

Plus, there is already a sizable backlash in mental attitude toward online self-absorption among my peers, and even younger age groups. Having an online profile may be somewhat necessary, but immersion is the mark of the unsavvy (which, according to Google, isn’t a word, but it should be, so there it is). Self-awareness, I’d argue, is the prime characteristic inculcated by my peers’ attitudes toward online absorption in this age, along with a desire to manage personal image to not the most popular configuration, but to a reasonably appealing one.

And that self-awareness, sadly, is not humility. (It often can be, but from personal experience, I am all too aware that being self-aware does not lead to humility…just because you can see your terrible haircut does not mean you acknowledge how bad it makes you look.) It involves doing what everyone does on a daily basis – try to be someone they want to be, especially in public – but it is not the realization and acceptance of personal flaws.

Which is what humility is really all about, right? And why it’s the least popular of all virtues. It’s obscenely difficult. I have to detach myself from my actions and not only think about the mistakes I have made, or am likely to make, but accept that I will probably make some anyways. And I have to be at peace (there HAS to be a better word for “be at peace” in English than that vaguely clunky phrase, but I do not know it) with that fact. So, not easy, whatsoever.

And, hypocritically, I may go on to add it really is a sad thing that there’s not more of it. Being able to admit you were wrong, and that you are capable of making mistakes, for example, is something that is justly admired in a politician (usually after they are dead), on rare occasions. I wish that I had that option on my tests every time I take a test (actually, I have written that down, on one occasion, but it rankled greatly). If bankers and financial pundits could admit they did not know what was going on, but this was their best guess; if we could admit that we make mistakes, being human, and thus risk should be spread around as much as possible; if institutions that depend on a few human choices could willingly proclaim their ignorance and caution…well, that institution would probably go underwater, human nature being what it is.

Perhaps in this information-soaked age, it’s hard (for me, at least, especially as I’ve cultivated a reputation of knowing things – ah, those subtle, sinister effects of successful successive bar trivia nights) for those who feel they SHOULD know because the evidence of what they should know is so easily obtained, to admit they don’t. Reputations are ultra-fashionable suits: they wear very well for the season, but can become tiresome, difficult to wear, or anachronistic quite quickly.

On the other hand, reputations, when best fashioned, really are the classic black suit. They never go out of fashion, and while they may need to be taken out or in, they are about as timeless as an article of clothing can get. Humility may not always be fashionable, but it’s timeless. Even if not very appealing…because, let’s face it, other qualities are much more marketable. Strength, honesty, prudence, even temperance (in an increasingly health-conscious age)…

Well, I forgot chastity. Never mind, humility is always more appealing than that.