Humility and Formality

#10 Thought and Practice

Dear Bela and Bohemond, Sabia and Aindrea, Martino and Bjarki:

This will conclude this series of missives and you can get back to your less-interrupted lives. I want to talk about decision making and putting ideas into practice, but that's what I've been talking about all along.

I think there are three levels of belief: ideas, theories and convictions. In these letters I've shared some of all three with you, but my conviction might only be your vague idea. An idea is disposable; they're everywhere. If some strike you as important and you begin playing with them seriously, those will be your theories. If I believe it will work to smile more and I go out and try and see how many other people I can get to smile, it will be a project and probably a useful one. I'll be testing a theory.

If ideas can't stand up to test, thought, argument and scrutiny, don't keep them. Run your questions and ideas by other people. Test theories in real life.

Those things which work for you, which comfort you, which seem real and true enough to make a part of you and your decision-making process are your convictions. You will believe them because you have not been able to find fault with them in practice. They haven't broken with everyday use. Convictions are the tools you use to live YOUR life–the things that make you uniquely you. You can't borrow convictions from other people, you can only borrow ideas. Convictions are custom work you do in and with yourself.

I have lately been presented with an idea I'm testing out and holding up to my existing theories and assumptions. It is that there is no such thing as a selfless act. If I come to believe that is so I will need to slightly change my current assessments of people and situations, or at least the terminology I use to consider and discuss them. If I come to relegate it to ideas I set aside and don't add to my "greatest ideas collection," that will strengthen my convictions about the ideas I do keep. Either way I win.

If generosity is self-comforting, and "self-sacrifice" is an avoidance of guilt, and sharing is some sort of exercise in building a body of "points" to be spent in the future, can there still be virtue in being good? If service is performed for the self-aggrandizement of the servant, should it be performed anyway?

I don't believe that self-aggrandizement will cause hair to grow on the palms of your hands.

Being one who doesn't believe in heaven and who doesn't make decisions based on what God might want me to do, I use a balance sheet approach, a ledger model, in my decision making. If the benefit to me was greater than to the other person, I am in debt and will try to make that up in the course of the relationship. If the benefit to the other person was considerable and I feel good afterward, I have benefitted myself without sin. If I benefit at someone else's expense and against their will, that I call selfish. If the balance is in my favor and harm was done, I have a cleanup job to do. Is it a selfish act to clean up after yourself? Do it anyway.

The convenience of a belief in God and heaven is that one's self-satisfaction can be offered to God as tribute, a sacrifice, and so TWO selfless acts were performed (unless you really like and enjoy serving God, and then you get that problem back AGAIN!).

Self comforting is no sin, as long as it's honest, so find your own comfort level and don't feel too guilty if you're proud of your humility. Keep moving onward and upward, keep thinking and sharing and practicing compassion for yourself and others.


Gunwaldt's directive to squires is that the order of service and responsibility is this:

  • squire's lady
  • Gunwaldt's lady
  • Gunwaldt
  • squire
  • That's the order in which to get people out of the rain. That's the order Gunwaldt recommends in which to attend to emergency needs, seating, emotional attention, etc.

    It's not a law. It's not a blueprint. It's a tool for decision making. It's permission to put one's personal life first. Having "squire" at the end of that list can be thought to equal requesting self sacrifice, but if serving the rest of the list first is a comfort then that selfishness is no sin. It is humility in practice, to provide for the needs of others. It is Gunwaldt's way to recommend benefitting oneself by benefitting others.

    How do you apportion your patience, attention, courtesy, time, money, material help, respect? Those sorts of decisions make you who you are. I've recommended earlier in the week that if you have limited respect it should go to the Crown first, baron and baroness second (when applicable), and the leftovers go to your knight (sorry Sabia and Ainrea for that usage but you'll follow no doubt). There are other people out there. In your head you have a heirarchy and it can't be just the kingdom order of precedence. There are ways to decide on a case by case basis.

    I talked with Artan to make sure I wasn't going to tell Martino something that would just be taken back on the other end. Artan says this: "Spend it on someone it will mean something to." If there are two countesses who could use a greeting, greet the one first who will most appreciate it. If one is from out of town, or having a bad day, or feels too often invisible, or has a brand-new title, let that affect your decision. The other will understand (and if not, you might make that a factor in your NEXT decision concerning her). If two gentlemen need assistance and one is your friend and the other is undecided about you, or harbors resentment toward you, help that one. You better serve the kingdom and your knight by widening the base of positive regard, and when you are respected and appreciated, some of the glory and credit does indeed fall on the peer you serve.

    I consider these all commendable motives:

  • to honor your lady
  • to benefit the kingdom
  • to make peace
  • to further the ideals of chivalry
  • to set an example
  • to do penance
  • to make amends
  • to provide hospitality
  • to make visitors feel welcome
  • to practice humility
  • Any good reason is a good reason.


    Time is not unlimited. Movement and existence have some reality and you can't be in two places at a time (e-mail is the closest I've found to that, and when I can visit Bjarki AND stay home with my kids and send Gunwaldt a lovenote to Minnesota all within the same half hour, I start to think I'm overcoming some of earth's physical limitations). What is not limited, once you get the hang of it, is the amount of "mindset" you can produce. With thought and practice, perhaps with coaching and encouragement from others, you can learn to draw on a nearly endless pool of respect, humility, courtesy, and positive regard of all sorts. What I would consider success in this course (if I might put it in crass terms for a moment) would be for you all to develop the ability to have so much focus and goodness in you that when you are formal and respectful of your knight you didn't take anything away from anyone else at the event, that you have already offered your respects to all others of rank and position, that you have already offered (at least mentally and in willingness) your positive regard to all of your own and lesser position, that you are aware of your impact on your surroundings (you haven't done any social damage). This can be yours if you believe it can be, and if you guard against the negativity and cynicism that will prevent the flow of humility and hopefulness.

    Every one of you here is rich in human resources. You all have friends and fans who want to help you learn and grow and be happy. It would be easy to say each of you has a knight or Pelican who is dedicating energy and attention to you specifically, having bound his or her honor up with yours, but in simple plain truth, you all have more than one, more than two, with whom you share that honor. That cannot be said of every person in the kingdom. It cannot even be said of every squire or apprentice in this kingdom. You are, in truth, special. You are in special circumstances.

    Keep this somewhere and re-read it soon, and then periodically until you can't find it anymore. If you would pass some of it on to your own future students, I would be honored.

    Ten thousand words after I've begun, I can summarize and issue the final assignments:

    Do the best you can as often as you can. Make responsible decisions.

    And I can summarize that and this whole course into two words now:

    Be good.

    With faith and affection I remain as I have been, at your service,

    Ælflæd of Duckford

    written by my own hand on the thirteenth day of March, in the twelfth year of the sovereignty of the Outlands, being A.S. XXXII, at Gulbjornstead in al-Barran

    But WAIT, there’s MORE!
    Bohemond reminded me that I had left out something I had promised, and so there was a follow-up bonus article, on Cynicism
    Return to topics list, or continue to #11, Cynicism.

    Copyright © Sandra Dodd
    1998, 2002