Friday, July 25, 2014

Of arrogance and humility

“EVERYBODY loves a winner,” so goes the saying. But so does everybody love humility (especially a humble winner, I might add). There are two unfortunate things before us. One, we have a president who was a clear winner but who is not clearly known for humility. Two, a caveat: Humility is a virtue so easy to remember when it is absent in another person. In its place just as easily we spot pride or arrogance. But when humility is absent in ourselves, it is so easy to forget the idea or (with apologies to a song) let it go. Then we call it conviction, courage or determination (when obstinacy or inflexibility would be more in point).
If we turn to the critics of the president, especially after his strong and unyielding defense of the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) or the controversial members of his cabinet, we are likely to hear them accuse him of arrogance or hard-headedness. When we listen to the president or his aides, we hear another story: his firm determination to bring the benefits of government services to as many people as possible. We in Eastern Samar are perennially asking the question: Where have all these services and benefits gone? There is very little evidence of them in the barangays.
When the budget secretary submitted his letter of resignation to own up to the DAP debacle, the president refused to accept it, saying that he does not subscribe “to the notion that doing right by our people is a wrong.” I thought it wasn’t so hard to see that doing right by our people by no means justifies the use of unconstitutional (that is, illegal) means. I also wondered what right or wrong actually means to the chief executive or whether or not he also hears, being a Catholic that he once said he is, advice from the Church’s moral leaders (not to say moral theologians too). I suppose he does; it is another story, of course, if the advice is heeded. There are accusations that his administration used the DAP to pass the Reproductive Health Law, to oust the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Corona etc. If the accusations are true, it makes me wonder even more if he thought in terms of right or wrong in the use of money to court legislators’ and politicians’ votes or support.
To paraphrase St. Augustine, one of our greatest sins is that we prefer to ignore our wrongs and focus on those of another. This is one necessary food for thought that both friends and critics of this administration or of any other person  or group should bear in mind. As long as we are prepared to apply on ourselves the same standards that we assign our critics or enemies, then we are safe from arrogance. Being so positioned is less than a fifteen-minute walk to humility.
In the Catholic mindset humility is an integral part of temperance, the virtue that watches over our appetites such that they do not hinder us from living according to our dignity as God’s children. Humility, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us, comes from “humus” which means earth or soil. We should not lose sight of how the lowliness of the earth and the soil mirrors the lowly attitude of the humble; it also reminds us of where we came from and where we are going back to. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” is first cousin to the Pauline exhortation: “Let what you see in Christ be seen in you…Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself” (Phil 2:5-6, 8).
When we are tempted to make gods of ourselves, humility brings up the truth that everything we are and have is grace, gifted on us by the real and true God. Naturally he uses people and circumstances when he does. On this count alone pride is incompatible with discipleship. On this count alone it is perfectly understandable why, inside and outside of the Scriptures, God reveals himself and his plans only to the humble. For how can the true God cultivate a fellowship with someone who considers himself another god? Does not, in fact, the Mother of Jesus say that the Almighty “has looked with favor on his lowly servant, and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 2:48)? And does not the Savior confirm this when he says: “He who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11)?
It may be humbling for a leader to accept a mistake. But that is the least of his worries. Not doing so out of pride and arrogance is a greater mistake.
You could say it is a bit unfortunate that we can no longer ask, at least in this life, the likes of Cain, Nebuchadnezzar, Hitler etc. or Lucifer himself about the role of pride in their personal histories. But their footprints are still visible today, and they lead nowhere except towards self-destruction.

Which is why a believer, let alone a leader, needs to heed the advice of Micah the prophet to Israel and its leadership: “You have been told, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). 

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