Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Charles Cooley: Humility


"I have always thought of myself
 as a humble person
 and sometimes I brag about it."
—Charles Cooley

Anyone who thinks that memoir-writing must be very serious business should see the Tuesday group in action. It's all I can do to maintain even a loose sort of order. (This classroom videos on our YouTube channel were all made by the Tuesday group—the Monday group meets at 8:30 am and is marginally more sober.) The following doesn't exactly qualify as memoir, which is the first thing Charles said when he read it to us last week. We didn't care; we were too busy laughing. You have to hear Charles reading this to get its full effect. Maybe one of these days I'll have time to record this and other readings. Patrick and I are opening up a little gallery and press on Merchant's Row in Randolph next year, and one of the things we want to do is record walk-ins, like StoryCorps does. Maybe Charles will assist us (he has a video camera, and we don't.) Here's his essay on humility:

It seems to me that since we can’t depend on candidates for government office to tell the truth consistently while they are campaigning we should look for indications of good character in their behavior. Contrapositively, we can reject bad behavior. Arrogance is bad behavior. I hope this is not a fleeting opinion that I formed during the Bush administration because I have in mind a solution. Modesty and humility are antidotes for arrogance. They are not quite the same thing because modesty can be cast to the four winds with your clothing, as it is in the Miss Universe competition, whereas humility doesn’t depend on your clothing.

I have always thought of myself as a humble person and I sometimes brag about it. To paraphrase Mark Twain or Max Schulmann, I conceal a great deal of intelligence and wisdom with a cloak of humility.   Maybe they put it the other way around but that’s the way I think it best describes my virtues. The evidence of my humility is overpowering. There are so many things that I might have done if I had been willing to acknowledge my potential instead of trying so hard to be the humble person that I would like to know better if I were someone else meeting me for the first time. I might have been a great warrior conquering all the bad arrogant dictators and setting their oppressed subjects free but great warriors have great enemies and few friends. They usually don’t even try to hide their arrogance.   In my formative years I intentionally behaved in such a way that I was considered stupid and lazy rather than smart and ambitious. That’s how humble I am.  My older sisters and parents tried to have me grow up to be a well organized, intelligent contributor to society but because I saw so clearly that this was not the way to be humble I successfully resisted and became what I am today much to their dismay.

If I were not such a humble person I would become a lobbyist and do what I could to promote an annual national competition to select the most humble person in the country.  The program could be modeled after the National Spelling Bee and would be called the National Humble Bee. The winner would travel around the world promoting humility in public appearances. High schools would adopt humility competition as a varsity sport and give up football as too dangerous and expensive. Universities would give scholarships to especially talented competitors in humility and form conferences to foster competition. I can even predict international competition in the Olympics. There is a great potential for a new industry to develop around such competition and I would become famous in spite of what my sisters think of me.

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