The Gifts of Humility

Unsurprisingly, major religions, from Buddhism to Christianity to Islam, place emphasis on humility. And so do countless codes of secular ethics. Indeed, any civilization worth its salt seeks to rein in our propensity for hubris and excessive self-assertion. (Just think of the uncommon length people in Japan, for example, go to embody humility in everyday life.) Yet, for all our efforts, this is, in the end, a losing battle. Civilization is weak and precarious, and life, ever stronger and more savage, always comes out on top. Self-assertion is natural, gratifying, erotically charged, whereas self-denial is anything but. Of all the animals, the human variety may be the most difficult to tame. And this is precisely why humility is so important. Through it we can learn how to tolerate ourselves and others, and make ourselves a touch less abominable. For good or ill, it is the best tool we have to tame the beasts that we are.

There is nothing shocking about this. If anything, it is one of the most banal — or should I say humble? — philosophical ideas. From the Buddha to the Sufi masters to Schopenhauer to Bergson and Weil, mystics and philosophers, East and West, have not in essence said anything else. If hearing it again does shock us, it is only because we have, perhaps like never before, become so blindly, erotically entangled in the race of life that we have even forgotten that we have eyes to see.

— Costica Bradatan, The Gifts of Humility