Humility is one of those delicate virtues that disappears the moment we think that we have attained it. If Gandhi was a humble man, it was not because he lived frugally or because he wore only home-spun khadi, or cotton cloth. Even if he chose to walk barefoot instead of on home-made sandals, that would not be the source of his humility. Humility is a state of heart–a willingness to see oneself as one relates to the whole, instead of using personal changes to draw attention to oneself. His goal in life, as he clearly states time and again, was “to make himself (and his ego) zero.” Few of us can say we have done this. But it’s open to us to try. This is a matter of degree, there being a long stretch between where we presently are (present writer included) and zero.
If nonviolence is the path that makes us humble, it is because it turns our world upside down.
Instead of working for one’s own gain, or even the utilitarian notion of the “greatest good for the greatest number,” the nonviolent spirit seeks to find the solution that works for everyone, win-win, or what Gandhi calls sarvodaya, the uplift of all.
Instead of believing that we have the whole truth–and nothing but the truth–nonviolence requires of us to admit that we can only see part the picture. Every individual holds one part of the truth.
Instead of changing others first, we realize we have to examine our own motives, and change those where needed.
Instead of thinking that we can go at it alone, in nonviolence, we glimpse at how small we really are, and with detachment, we see a power moving through us, and it affects us deeply–we are not the “doers,” as Gandhi might say. This allowed him — and could allow us — to enjoy what’s sometimes called the “proud humility” of realizing that while we are nothing by ourselves, we’re not by ourselves.
So the next time someone offers you a book on Humility and How I Got It, (the humorous title proposed by our friend Richard Deats) tell them that you don’t need it: You’re practicing nonviolence every day. Well, on the other hand…you might go ahead and take the book, thinking to yourself, “maybe there is something I can learn from even this.” And, more to the point, you don’t want to humiliate your friend…
The next time you catch yourself thinking ‘I did this great thing’ — or, for that matter, ‘what a colossal failure I am’ remind yourself that strictly speaking it’s circumstances, and the support of others, that act through us or at least give us possibilities to act.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org