Core Decorum: humility

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

As we enter a new decade and yet another semester at the University of Dallas, it would be fitting to pause and think of what practices, virtues and habits we would wish to exemplify. 

After all, we are only human and must be intentional about our practice of any virtue if we wish to truly be defined by it. Carpenters are only  carpenters because of their experience, practice and expertise gained over the course of their lives, and this is true of every profession. 

There are so many fine virtues for us to choose to pursue this semester. Some might say temperance. Others might argue for modesty. Still others believe that fortitude is what this Catholic community needs to develop in order to participate well in the world. 

However, though all properly practiced virtues make life better, I believe that the virtue we here at UD must intentionally practice this semester is the much-misunderstood practice of humility. 

I used to believe that humility was about putting myself down, not raising my hand, not calling attention to myself or trying to bolster my reputation. Whenever I tried to practice this in my life, I would feel a moment of gratification for resisting temptation, but what would follow was a rather hollow sense of confusion. 

For some time, I tried to remedy this and told myself that I was just too attached to pride. “Just one more time,” I would tell myself. “Just deny. Deny. Deny. Deny. Deny.” 

The emptiness never left. 

Then, I stumbled across a thought one day, a bit like a person so lost in thought that they do not see the root just about to catch their foot , so to speak. 

I realized that every time I denied myself a moment of gratification or turned away from calling attention to myself for something I did or something I would be good at doing, I was denying those around me my help. 

I was not being humble. I was being a recluse. 

Every time I reinforced in my mind that what I did should not mean anything, or that what I am good at does not deserve recognition or attention, I taught myself to not care about my God-given talents and gifts. Additionally, I was teaching myself to not care about helping others. 

No, we should not receive a round of applause for every little good thing we do, but if we refuse gratification from those in our community for our truly good acts, all we have left to focus on is our flaws rather than our virtues. This leads to more degradation than enhancement for a people called to be the best that they possibly can be. 

Practicing “humility” in the same warped way that I did leads one into a never-ending spiral of self-deprecation and apathy. 

St. Thomas Aquinas said that humility was “keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one’s superior.” Additionally, St. Thomas believed that humility was “the mark of a true disciple.”

Humility is not the absence of self-appreciation, gratification or, most importantly, self-love. Humility is the absence of pride and the joyful embracing of our own place within God’s plan for us. 

How do we figure out what that place is? We do all accept that God speaks to us in many ways, but one of the most common and best ways God speaks to us is through the interaction of our deeds with our community.

When we see that something we did helped others and they are experiencing thanksgiving because of it, we have done the will of  Christ. 

This semester, let us seek to practice humility, not by putting ourselves down or denying us the fruits of our labor, but by embracing that which God gave us and, in turn, giving ourselves to each other.

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