Humility and Formality

#8 in the continuing series on humility and formality, PERCEPTIONS, being the inner reality behind the outer appearance.

If you bow to someone, or address someone as "Sir," it can be done with a great range of intent and sincerity. Some people are better actors than others. Some exude sincerity. You can bow your lowest bow and still be haughty and arrogant. You can bow slightly but with the greatest respect.

Some people can read others very well. Others see forms only, very two dimensionally as though people were cardboard cutouts.

Two different things are happening in any case. You yourself know how you feel and what your intentions and your mental posture an attitude are toward the other person. There are some other people who can tell too, whether you want them to or not.

Howard Gardner, who studies learning and intelligence, defines seven intelligences. Some are those that have been recognized and glorified all along–verbal, mathematical, and spatial. Then there are the secondary glories--music and kinesthetic/bodily. The other two are intrapersonal (self awareness and clarity) and interpersonal, of which Gardner says, "The core capacity here is the ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals and, in particular, among their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions."

If you are a person who reads other people easily and pretty accurately that's great. If you do not, please don't assume that no one else can either.

If you don't read people easily, figure out which of your friends do, and get their advice on important decisions or get their take when you're trying to figure out what happened in some social situation or another. There is a real, true area of perception in which some people are agile and practiced, and others are as if tone-deaf in the company of musicians or crippled at the olympics.


Time out--you all know how BAD I am at physical activities, right? I don't fight, would be terrible at it, I have to re-learn dance steps nearly every time and I'm not graceful. You all know I can't remember numbers and that I forget the rules to card games and I can't hold patterns in my head long enough to plan three moves ahead in chess? I don't cook without effort. I can't draw. If anyone doesn't know those things, have that knowledge about my shortcomings as a gift.

Please trust me on this, though. There are people who can read whether you are sincere. "Fake it 'til you make it" is good advice in the realm of courtesy and humility. If you hold in mind the awareness that you CAN do better you will be at that moment on the path to doing better, and that too will show. People's posture is different, they're softer, less bristly, less defensive, when they are actually being respectful, not just going through respectful-looking motions. If you're not up to actually feeling respect for someone and you intend to act as closely as you can, copy someone you know to be sincere, or put yourself in mind of someone you respect wholeheartedly and keep that image just long enough to reset your body chemistry.

Gradually, as you reassess your relationships with other people, you will not be acting from conscious thought and the rule book, but from a position of actual, honest, resonating respect. Some people will not notice any difference, but others will know it as surely as they see your hair and your shoes.

If you have a high interpersonal intelligence (in Gardner's terminology), if you are perceptive in that way, do not use it for evil or selfish purposes. If you are charming and can tell who is vulnerable and you take advantage of those who can't read you back, snap out of it. Courtesy and honor prevent your taking unfair advantage of people. If you do so it will cost you in the eyes of those who can see.

It is possible to be young and unaware of taking advantage of others in this way. Watch yourself. Be thoughtful and honest with yourself. You probably know people who use their charm cruelly. Beginning right now, don't do that. If you find yourself doing it and knowing you are doing so, back off and make amends. You had the option not to read this, but if you have read this far I withdraw from you the ghost of any idea that you are at liberty to use your interpersonal skills in any reckless or irresponsible way. I'll get you if you do it and I find out about it. I deputize you all to assist the others on this loop to BE GOOD and do good and look for the good in others.

Expansion on a statement up above. I wrote "...or put yourself in mind of someone you respect wholeheartedly and keep that image just long enough to reset your body chemistry."

After I put those words together (first time in my life) I realized that's what must be recommended in Christian and Buddhist teachings–a trick to reset body chemistry (or mental/spiritual posture if that makes more sense to you). Buddhists say "Find the Buddha in every man." Jesus said in a parable (Matthew 26):

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

You don't have to think of Jesus or Buddha to adjust your mindset, to induce humility. Think of someone you respect. Maybe Kragon. Roderick. Artan, Olaf, Gunwaldt. Whatever works for you, use that.

Am I teaching you tricks? I'm trying to give you tools.


Return to topics list, or continue to #9, Transformation.

Copyright © Sandra Dodd
1998, 2002