Humility and Formality

#7 Humility on the Inside

Date: Mon, Mar 9, 1998 7:32 PM EDT
From: SandraDodd

I am in correspondence with a friend who is not in the SCA and I told her what I was doing this week. This loop came up. She asked this:

"How do you talk someone into being humble? Seriously. Do you tell them the reasons that they aren't so wonderful as they think they are?"

I sent her #4 and #5 that I've sent you.

Very seriously, I would NEVER tell any of you you weren't wonderful. I often have a chance to tell you you ARE wonderful.

The most wonderful person on earth can have humility (and WOULD have, of course, or wouldn't qualify to be the most wonderful person on earth).

Knowing what's good about other people doesn't need to diminish your own self confidence. It will increase it, I think, to realize that you are surrounded by others who have skills and talents you might have need of.

The trick I'm going to tell you now I've already told to Martino, and Aindrea asked me to put it in writing.

When I was 25 or 26 I was teaching 9th grade for the first time after having taught 7th for four years. Some of the kids I knew already. At fourteen and fifteen years old, many of them were coming into the hostile territory of adolescence. Some were nearly grown. They were tired of school, some were tired of me, most were tired of English classes. Some really liked me from the first time they'd been in my class and I knew there would be repeat information and repeat jokes and stories. I had to do something to create a trusting, safe atmosphere for all of us. What I decided to do had a larger and broader effect than I ever thought it would have had.

What I did was to say that I was only the teacher because it was an English class, that I really loved words and writing, and had chosen to study that further and so become "an expert," and since they were required by law to take an English class I thought they might as well be in one with me as anyone else because I was fun. BUT, I said, if the class were about anything else I would NOT be the teacher, but one of them might be. I asked them to think of what they could do that they did well enough to teach, something that I might not know how to do at all.

The intent was to make them feel grown, to make me seem more human, less "TEACHER" to them. To define the class as a small part of a big life, not as "the most important thing in your life" as some teachers like to do. I wanted to boost their self esteem.

I didn't put everyone on the spot. Some volunteered. Some were humble but their friends called out things that they knew about them. One trained horses. One could repair cars and was restoring an old Chevy, I think it was, from the 40's, with his dad. I asked which of them were good swimmers. Several were. I told them I couldn't swim and if swimming were required I'd be totally useless and they'd be heroes. One girl said she could make tortillas--great tortillas. I told her that if it were a tortilla-making class she'd be the teacher and I'd be a beginner, and if we were stranded she might save all our lives by feeding us.

I told each how ignorant I was as it was appropriate. How afraid I was on a running horse, how I had someone doublecheck my saddle. They laughed. I told them I'd tried twice to learn to swim, and failed. They laughed, but not meanly. What was happening, which I hadn't expected to have happen, was that we were having compassion for one another. It made a lot of difference.

The next year I did it again. Got swimmers, cooks. Some spoke Spanish, or Tewa. I didn't. One sang rancheras, a traditional old-timey kind of music that was common in Northern New Mexico, with guitar, fiddle and accordian. One was a weaver in Chimayo.

By the second year I knew what to expect. I didn't treat them like kids, as I might have without that introductory session. I treated them like my potential teachers. I had hoped to empower them but didn't realize it would humble me. That was the best part.

The relationship between me and the students was different. They had a reason to respect me other than "I said so," and they knew that there could be other circumstances under which they would be the teachers and I would be the respectful student. I appreciated their respect, and didn't take it for granted.

If there's someone you think is a weenie, an irritant, it will help if you discover, even just for yourself in private, what it is that the other person knows that you don't know. What can they do that you can't do? What have they accomplished, or made, or discovered, or seen, or endured that you have not? Find something in them that you can respect. In the moment that you know one way in which they are superior to you, in however small an aspect, that is humility.

If there's someone who outranks you but for whom for some reason you have negative opinions and small regard, take a moment to think what they can do that you can't do. There is your honest humility.

It will change you.

If someone is in all ways you know or can imagine just equal or inferior to you, find something. Perhaps he fights exactly as well as you do. Maybe he took years to learn it, but he stuck with it and he did it and now he's as good as you are. Honor that perseverence. Have compassion for the difficulties he had to undergo.

What if he fights exactly as well as you do and learned it with no effort whatsoever? Honor that talent. Realize that there might be other things he could learn just as quickly, and he might zoom off ahead of you at any moment.

The wonderfulness of others will not diminish you. Your realization of the wonderfulness of others will enlarge you.


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Copyright © Sandra Dodd
1998, 2002