One of the seven capital virtues is humility — playing opposite to the sin of pride. But as the song goes: Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way. Or as Hercule Poirot puts it: One of my finest qualities is my humbility!
Asking people to be humble in the age of self-esteem is a bit contradictory. Humility requires a certain self-effacement, a level of thinking yourself unworthy compared to others. Taken too far it displays as low self-esteem or even victimhood. If you think of yourself as lesser, it is possible that people will begin to treat you as lesser — which of course re-enforces your low opinion of yourself.
As usual, anything taken too far is damaging to the self and ultimately damaging to society. Both humility and pride are flip sides of the same ugly idea, that is, the idea that inequality is a natural thing. Although the American constitution may hold certain truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, it is abundantly clear that they were just joking. Even at the time, they certainly didn’t mean all men and women weren’t even in the picture. Not surprisingly, inequality has been at the centre of American society ever since.
To be fair few societies have done much better — though some have tried harder.
Perhaps there is a certain truth to the idea — as primates, we are trapped to some extent by status. We recognize alpha males and those who must defer to them. But building an entire social order on the fact that some guys are bigger than others —- and more aggressive — is kind of dumb. And in any case, our big brains have been devising ways to level the playing field ever since the first caveman picked up a club. Big muscles are pretty irrelevant in the face of a sub-machine gun.
Clearly technology has allowed us to level the playing field physically so why have we clung to the trappings of status (as a side note, Fortune 500 CEOs are taller than the general population — and I’m pretty sure it’s not so they can see farther) granting people privileges they certainly haven’t earned?
Equality may not come naturally but, let’s face it we haven’t been living in a state of nature since the invention of agriculture. Maybe it’s time for our great big brains to figure out ways to stop worrying about esteem and start focusing on equality.
Now that would be something to be proud of — in a modest kind of way.
And that’s ten minutes.