Be Yourself

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BE YOURSELF An Explanation of Humility by William Lawson, SJ

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE


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CONTENTS

Fakes.........................................................................5 Humility is Anonymous ...........................................7 Humility is Various...................................................7 Humility is Truth ......................................................8 Know the Bad in You ...............................................9 Know the Good in You ...........................................11 Your Limitations.....................................................12 Dependence on God ...............................................13 Deficiencies ............................................................15 Being Someone Else...............................................16 Play Your Part.........................................................19 Practice of Humility ...............................................22 Three Degrees of Humility.....................................23 Be Yourself .............................................................24


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5

BE YOURSELF An explanation of Humility Fakes You are hardly to be blamed if you do not know what humility is. There are so many fakes passing as the virtue that you may yourself have been taken in by them. And you may have a poor opinion of the virtue of humility, valuing it by the counterfeits that you know and not by the reality which you do not know. The fakes, certainly, are repellent. They raise gross hypocrisy to the rank of virtue; they advocate a modesty which is a subtle kind of showing off; and they recommend continual submissiveness and spinelessness. Who can like Uriah Heep? He is a hypocrite but says of himself, ‘I am the ‘umblest person going.’ On consideration, we cannot really like modesty which is nothing but a convention, and dishonest besides. If someone asks you if you are good at games – football, or badminton, or whatnot – custom requires you to sing small about your ability, especially if it is high. ‘Oh, I’ve kicked a ball about’, you say, or ‘I play sometimes’. Should you then be given a game and show yourself a player of county standard, everyone (except your oppo-


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nent whom you misled and walloped) will think how modest and unassuming you are. (Your opponent will think you should have told the truth. But the only time you are allowed to tell the truth about your skill at games is when you have none – and then, so strong is the convention of mock modesty, nobody believes you.) And universal submissiveness, always turning the other cheek, accepting all rebuffs, snubs, insults and rudeness without answering back – who can admire what seems to be (and is) a denial of self-possession and courage? Other fakes which damage the reputation of humility are tricks of speech and behaviour which claim to be humble and are nothing of the kind. ‘In my humble opinion…’ says someone: and you wait for him to continue with a resounding piece of selfassertion. You listen occasionally to hosts or benefactors running down what they have offered to you, though most of them think, and they are usually right, that they have done you proud, and, to take a last example of bogus humility, you sometimes come across persons so determinedly humble that you feel sure they have made up their minds always to take the lowest place – they will be the last through the door, the last to be served, the last to be considered. And woe betide anyone who tries to do them out of their distinction. Is that humility? It is NOT.


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BE YOURSELF

7

Humility is Anonymous Humility is not recognisable as one particular way of thinking and behaving. Justice is plain to behold: when you see it you know it for what it is. Faith, fortitude, temperance – they are all special ways of thinking and acting, and you know them from their appearance. But humility is, in a sense, all the virtues: and it shows itself, at different times, as faith, confidence, minding your own business, joy, courage, giving a piece of your mind, gentleness, and any goodness you can name.

Humility is Various The reason why humility does not go under its own name, and why it has so many disguises, is that humility consists in being yourself. There are so many of us, each with a special character and quality and capacity, and each with particular opportunities and duties of exercising the spiritual faculties we possess. ‘Being ourself’, therefore, means endless individual expressions of the same virtue of humility. For one, humility will mean overcoming a shrinking timidity, and speaking out; for another it will mean curbing forwardness, and keeping quiet. When a harassed bus conductor stays courteous and helpful in the rush hour, that is humility. When an ordinary citizen receives a sudden visit of high and mighty persons and entertains them with a pleasant self-assurance, that is humility. When a father fights doggedly for the rights of


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his children against all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and officials and courts and committees, that is humility. It may be humility for an innocent man falsely charged and unjustly condemned to state his claim to justice and to do battle for it. It may be humility for another to submit to such condemnation on the ground that he is guilty of unpunished crimes and that he will take this opportunity of balancing his books. In the neatest and nearest definition, humility is truth. Your true self has all the virtues. Being your true self, being humble, means showing forth all your goodness, all your virtues, according as you have opportunity for their exercise.

Humility is Truth This simple doctrine of humility, that it consists in being your true self, can be made clear by examining what is the truth about yourself. What is required for humility is that you should know the truth about yourself, and that you should live that truth: you should know yourself fully, and you should live fully according to that knowledge. Then there will be no shams in you, no deceits and false pretences. And you will be just what you should be in your relations to God and to your fellow-creatures. Knowledge of yourself can be divided, for convenience in thinking, into knowledge of what is good, what is bad, and what is neither good nor bad, but just lacking.


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