In the United States, humility is not the first word that comes to mind during the winter holidays.
In our materialistic and consumer-oriented culture, flashiness, “happiness,” and excess are typically celebrated by default if not intention. From gift shopping to home decorating, moments of simplicity, humility, and joy often get lost in the shuffle. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, it takes conscious effort to carve out time and space to cultivate the sort of quiet humility which is the foundation of contentment and joy.
Since everything else has been so strange in this year of pandemic, I have an off-the-wall proposal: why not approach the 2020 holiday season in a different way? What if we opened our hearts enough to make room for a dash of simplicity and humility? By “humility,” I mean the fundamental virtue that all great religious and spiritual traditions identify as a keystone. Think of it as a “right-sized” estimation of ourselves specifically and humanity in general.
Genuine humility acknowledges our gifts and talents as well as our challenges and limitations. Thomas Keating, a monastic writer and teacher, once said that humility means thinking neither more highly of ourselves than we ought nor less of ourselves than we ought. Instead, Keating encouraged us to see ourselves as a loving God sees us: unique, gifted, flawed, and challenged — all at the same time. Humility means we might wake up one day and be delighted to find we don’t think of ourselves much — at all!
In America, we’re slowly emerging from an election season with presidential candidates backed by voters who predicted their chosen candidate would win by a wide margin. We didn’t know it at the time, but most of us were in for a rude awakening. Our preferred candidate won or lost by a much smaller percentage of votes than predicted.
For me, it was a lesson in humility I did not seek. Throughout the ages, however, wisdom teachers have commended the conscious cultivation of this human virtue. Whether invited or uninvited, humility will catch up to all of us with the passage of time. Here’s my thought for the holiday season: with simplicity and joy as our promised companions, why not get an early start?