Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Living the Quiet Life - Some Thoughts on Humility

The new Pope has generated lots of discussion around the world over the past few weeks. (That's aside from the Catholic 'elephant in the room' of abuse, of course. But I'm not here to talk about that).
What struck me was what I heard about his lifestyle as a cardinal. He chose a small apartment, cooked his own meals, and used public transport. He made his lifestyle deliberately modest, in order to demonstrate his attitude to service.
Later, after the white smoke rose from the chimney, he emerged onto the balcony and made another demonstration of his attitude, by asking the people of the church to pray for him. And to pray with him. The ulterior: I'm just like you. We should do this together. I am not more special than you; in fact, I need your help in this job I'm going to do.
It feels to me that these are important demonstrations of humility and could be very helpful in the ongoing struggles of the Catholic church.

And then, more recently, I noticed it happening again: this time, Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury. An innovative change to the normal ceremony - added by Welby himself - had him intercepted at the door of the cathedral by a youngster. It was quite something to watch.
See it here at about 2min 50sec.  
A 17-year-old asked him "Who are you? Who sent you? And what confidence do you come with?". His reply was "I'm just me, basically, and actually I know nothing. I'm not coming with confidence, I'm coming with fear. But I'm here to serve".
Again, I was struck by the sense of humility in this segment. It was a clear indication from the Archbishop that, despite the presumed power and authority of the position, he wishes to be seen as 'only' human.

I haven't seen such obvious public displays of humility in a long time. Most media output in the UK is dominated by people who exude quite the opposite; take Simon Cowell, for instance, whose self-absorption and grandiosity has actually become a kind of joke. Our culture seems to be evolving more and more in the other direction......

Being humble is weak.
You're under-rating yourself - brag a little to get ahead. **
In fact, brag a lot.
Brag louder, and more, than the others.
Don't be quiet or unassuming.
Quiet guys finish unnoticed.

In the therapy industry, the tide is also flowing that way. A colleague in the US has observed recently how counselling/therapy has become "commodified" - partly due, I think, to an increase in competitive marketing trends.
Yes, therapists are now bragging to get ahead, too. I have noticed it myself. I spotted someone on social media recently describing themselves as "known for quick results". Elsewhere, people offer 'testimonials' in their literature, perhaps unaware of the inherent bias. What I see is a widespread decrease in humility.
 Odd, perhaps, when the BACP Ethical Framework describes humility as one of the "personal moral qualities" essential in ALL therapists.
"Humility: the ability to assess accurately and acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses." (BACP, 2013)

Personally, I would choose as a therapist (or refer clients to) someone who makes no bold claims on their website. If they did, it would turn me off. I like it when people suggest that therapy "may" be a real help, rather than saying it "can" change your life. Words are important; tone is important; the ulterior (unspoken) message is the one that really gets through.

Maybe we just need more of it in the world.....?
Generally, I think humility could make the world a bit less 'in-your-face'; a little quieter, perhaps. It might help us in recognizing ourselves and each other as normal, faulty human beings - rather than cultivating a culture of celebrity, competition, pressure on others, pressure on self.

The problem with humility is ... that to be humble involves just quietly getting on with what you do, making no song and dance about it, not asking for any awards or prizes (although BACP are offering them!). In an increasingly competitive commercial world, we are driven to NOT be quiet.

In general society, humility is normally practiced only in quiet corners (that's the point, after all). But as a result - the virtue, benefits, and rewards of humility are chronically under-advertised. So thanks be, to Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin.....
for making a song-and-dance about NOT making a song-and-dance.


** In Transactional Analysis, there is a tradition of  using 'bragging' as something healthy. I broadly agree with this, because it's done in an I'm OK-You're OK spirit. In other words, it's not about bragging to be one-up on others; it's more to do with fighting the internal critic (or Pig Parent).
Bragging at the expense of others is a widespread behaviour which implies an "I'm better than them" position (I+U-). This may be significant of the "Take It" driver (Tudor, 2008).

Humility is an antidote to "Take It", as Tudor suggests: 
"Just as awareness and understanding helps the individual, so too the social psychological analysis of the social, political, and economic consequences of the 'Take it' driver message may help the social awareness of individuals, groups, peoples, and even nations to resist oppression and to commit to cooperation." 
 Sounds like humility in action to me. 


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