Humility

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 21, 2017

Greatness Manifests Humility                                                                      May 15, 2017

A recent White House dinner included several journalists as invited guests. They reported that guests were served water while President Trump received a diet coke. Guests were served chicken as the main course. President Trump’s chicken came with a side of extra gravy. And for dessert the guests were served one scoop of ice cream while Trump received two scoops, whipped cream, and a cherry.

This White House meal with the President is in sharp contrast with a meal my colleagues and I experienced in a village of impoverished indigenous Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico. The hosts insisted that we sit in places of honor at their table. They then served us the only chicken available in the village while they were content to eat rice and beans.

These contrasting meal experiences illustrate a growing tension in our country between attitudes of arrogance and expressions of humility. It seems there is a growing affinity for people manifesting over-large egos. Led by our President and some national and state elected officials, we are becoming a nation that values bluster and consolidation of coercive power over discernment and collaboration. Associating with “winners” has become more important than attending to refugees, the impoverished, and the sick. There is a burgeoning disrespect toward differing cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Effective leaders are expected to be able to force their will on others – particularly at the beckoned call of wealthy Special Interests. Internationally, The United States is expected to assert absolute dominance over the nations of the world: the strongest military, the most prosperous economy, a superior culture, and the most successful political system.

It is essential that such popular bluster be mitigated by a sense of humility. In English, the word “humility” comes from the Latin root word, “ground.” To have humility is to be grounded in a way that does not need to prove self-worth or to claim superiority over others.

The primacy of humility is advocated in many of the major religions. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks states, “In Judaism humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills, and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of ones self, but to appreciate the self one has received. In recognition of the mysteries and complexities of life, one becomes humbled to the awesomeness one is and what one can achieve.”

In Christianity, Jesus says, “When you are invited… to a banquet… sit down at the lowest place…” From there, you may be honored with an invitation to move up higher. “For all,” he said, “who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” C. S. Lewis states that, in Christian moral teaching, the opposite of pride is humility. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

In Islam it is said, The Prophet did not behave towards others as if he was better than they were, nor did he spurn manual work.  One of his companions reported that Prophet Muhammad worked happily with servants or workers.  Other companions related that the Prophet tidied his house, tied camels, fed animals, ate meals with his servants, and helped them in kneading dough and bringing provisions from the market.  It was also reported that he used to visit the sick, attend funerals, ride on a donkey, slow down his pace for the sake of the weak and accept invitations from the poor.

Lao-Tzu said, “humility … keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men (sic).”

People of privilege, including our President and elected leaders, have advantages over the general public that demand a serious dose of humility. Imagine these privileged people leading our nation toward a growing awareness that “Fullness of knowledge always and necessarily means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance, and that is always conducive to humility ” (Robert A. Millikan). Imagine people expecting a semblance of humility among members of Congress, in the office of President, and in our relationships with other nations. Imagine humility influencing our relationships with one another. Imagine what we could learn from one another, the respect that could be generated, and the problems that could be solved. Imagine electing people who are strong not by being proud and arrogant but by being humble and respectful. Imagine the impact on international leaders at a White House dinner where the host took only one scoop of ice cream so that the guests could each have two!

Humility is an amazing tool to complement the economic, military, and political strength of our country. A humble America could advance trustworthy creative relationships between our country and other nations in our troubled world.

Advantaged and influential people exercising humility could break down the economic, racial, ethnic, and gender identity barriers among us. Modeling humility could enhance the effectiveness of our democratic system. Bluster, arrogance and coercion have been tried. It’s time to give humility a chance.

No More War

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 28, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Study War No More

Each spring, on a sunny day before Memorial Day, our family visits the graves of our parents to clean away the weeds and plant flowers. As we clean the headstone, we remind each other of the struggles and good times we had shared with our parents. The view from the family plot in this small country cemetery includes small American flags waving in the spring breeze next to grave markers of military veterans. Some had lived long lives while others had fallen in battle, much too young. There were veterans from many past wars. However, as I took in this scene, a cloud settled over the cemetery and the wind ceased to blow. The flags fell limp as if grieving with the discovery that for the past fifty years there has been perpetual war creating more veterans, more wounds, and more graves.

I was reminded again of our country’s never-ending war when I viewed a new memorial to veterans in the community where I live. There is a plaque embedded into concrete for each branch of the military. Written into the concrete are the words, “In honor of all veterans past, present, and future.” Has war become so much a part of our lives that we accept its inevitable extension into the future of our country?

The normalization of perpetual war has seeped into our society unnoticed. We have professionalized our armed forces. During World War II, military personnel were called “our boys in uniform.” Now we call them “warriors.” Joining the military is a job and a career choice. In March of this year there were United States Special Operation Forces deployed in 102 countries around the globe. Often our country leads with military action or the threat of action before initiating diplomacy. The military industrial complex drives our country’s economic health. To seek an end to war is to jeopardize the stock market and to be against good civilian jobs needed to keep the military supplied with weapons and all the materials that keep an army running.

The best way to honor our war veterans this Memorial Day is to reject the notion that it is normal to live in a time of perpetual war. In the Memorial Day ceremonies in every city, village, and town let us sing “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Let us pledge to take military recruiters and organizations out of our high schools. Further, as a veteran, I do not need praise for being a “warrior.” Nor do I need medals and speeches for bravery or praises for my sacrifice. I need people to confess that there is no glory in war. There may be times when our country finds itself in a defensive war. But do not deny that war is a horror and a corrupter of young lives wrenched out of their home cities, villages and farmlands. Some are killed. Some are permanently disabled. PTSD is another result of sending people into a war environment that is alien to all they’ve been taught about relationships, citizenship and rule of law.

Therefore, this Memorial Day, I seek to honor veterans of past wars with my own confession. I served as an Army Medic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1962 through the beginning of the Viet Nam war in 1965. Later, one of my brothers served as a cook in Viet Nam. I was never on a battlefield. But I confess we’ve both contributed to the carnage of war by our participation in support systems that make it possible to send men and women into harms way, some to their deaths. In retrospect, I’m sorry that I chose that path when other ways were available to me. I am unable to justify participating in the precursor of what has become perpetual war.

And so I grieve over the flag marked graves of our veterans. I seek reconciliation with those women and men who have been injured and killed during the last fifty years. I also seek to reconcile with veterans who gave up portions of their lives to military deployment. The first step is for us to commit to extracting our country from the bravado and profits of war.

We can begin by becoming a people who honor those who non-violently risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives as volunteers in risky areas and situations in our world: people who bear the name of our country as they serve through non governmental agencies such as Doctors Without Borders and journalists; serve in refugee aid projects and rehabilitation projects after floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes; and serve through organizations like UNICEF, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the Peace Corps. These are sometimes dangerous and radical alternatives to war and aggression. Thank them for their courage and commitment.

Finally, this Memorial Day let us say over the graves of the fallen, ‘in our grief we commit to a future where we teach the ways of peace with justice. You have not died in vain. You have created among us abhorrence for the ways of war and a passion for diplomacy and reconciliation with our neighbors.”  Then perhaps we shall notice the clouds pass away and the wind stir the flags marking the resting places of our war veterans.