Chapter 8 (third continuation)
Acceptance and humility are closely related attributes. A person with abundant humility can accept much more readily those unpleasant situations that would chafe one who is challenged in this regard. For instance, how often have we thought to ourselves or declared outright that something was unacceptable to us on the basis of our having an inflated opinion of our deservedness? The accommodations were unacceptable. The meal was unacceptable. The way they spoke to us was unacceptable. Each of these statements essentially arises from the opinion that we deserve better than we received. The accommodations might be acceptable for a vagabond, for instance, but not for us. The meal might be acceptable for a beggar, or a hungry dog perhaps, but not for us. It might be okay to speak like that to just anyone off the street, but not to us.
Earlier in this chapter I spoke about how the stronger our sense of self becomes the more focused we become on where our edges meet the world. These are good examples of that phenomenon. Rather than our being grateful for receiving the food and shelter that we need, we allow ourselves to feel slighted because they’re not up to whatever standards we might have set for ourselves. It’s not enough that communication is taking place; it must take place in a manner and tone, and with sufficient deference on the part of the other person such that our self-image is upheld.
Lackluster dinners, substandard lodging, and “rude” exchanges are pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Frequently enough, though, things happen that totally derail whatever plans we might have had or sense of normalcy we might have felt. Severe illness or accident, broken relationships, career setbacks, financial devastation, death of a loved one – none of these are easy to accept. At first blush it may not seem that humility would have anything to do with our ability to accept these more tragic twists and turns in life, but I think it does. A similar lack of humility is present when we think such thoughts as: “This shouldn’t be happening to me”, or “I don’t deserve this,” or “Why would God let this happen to me?”
We tend to get pretty enamored with the illusion of our own specialness. Stars can explode, earthquakes and hurricanes can devastate entire cities, genocide can be perpetrated against millions of people, but somehow the universe should tread gently around us due to the obvious specialness of our being! Indeed, there is little humility in such thinking, but let us also be quick to forgive the irrationality of our own grieving self.
Children, on the other hand, are masters of acceptance. It might not seem that way if you’ve been witness to a temper tantrum recently, but bear with me for just a moment. Think of the way a child weathers an illness or accident. No, they’re not immune to pain, but they are immune to much of the suffering that befalls an adult with the same prognosis. The reason for this is that a child’s awareness resides much more often in the present moment than does the awareness of an adult. Sure enough, both the child and the adult are aware of their pain in the here and now, but the adult is much more likely to be suffering from the mental anguish that frequently accompanies the experience of pain.
The reason is that we adults are more likely to be dwelling in the past, or living in the future – either ruminating over how we might have behaved differently in order to have avoided the pain of the present, or pondering a life that will now be shorter than we’d anticipated, without the abilities that we’ve come to take for granted, or far less meaningful or enjoyable than the one we’ve come to enjoy. We’re more likely to be angry with our God for letting such a bad thing happen to us. We’re more likely to be angry at all those people who are “less deserving” than we are, but who, nonetheless, don’t have to deal with what we’re dealing with. We’re more likely to be angry at the very universe from which we arise for the existence of the circumstances of our suffering in the first place. Why are we born into such fragile bodies, anyway? Leave it to the vicissitudes of life to reveal all the many ways that our lack of humility becomes manifest.
Another reason that children are more accepting than we adults is that they are much less likely to harbor illusions as to what they “should” be able to do. We adults have more expectations for ourselves than we’re even aware of. We “should” be able to beat whatever illness we might contract. We “should” be able to recover from whatever accident might befall us. We “should” be able to overcome every problem or difficulty with some ingenious and life-improving solution. We “should” be able to go out and acquire all of the trappings of our modern, materialistic society. We “should” be able to find work to support ourselves and our families, regardless of the fact that the economy has grown out of synch with the needs of so many people. Children, however, are not caught up in such a tangled web of ideas. They are children, after all, and almost everything they encounter is bigger and stronger than they are! Children have no expectation that they should be in control of whatever situation they might be facing. And we all know what thrives in the empty space between what is and what “should” be. Yes, depression, anxiety, and meaninglessness.
Humility is not a very much appreciated trait in our culture. We celebrate those with the greatest refinement of taste, those who speak the most audaciously and convey the most unshakeable self-assurance. We celebrate the winners who go after what they want and let everyone else know that they’ve prevailed. I suppose when we celebrate such traits in the kings and queens of politics, sports, industry, and popular culture, we celebrate them in ourselves as well. Perhaps we need assurance that the self that we’ve spent so much energy creating is really a worthwhile pursuit. Perhaps it’s just our karma.
Please stay tuned for a brief wrap-up of Chapter 8. After that it's on to the final chapter!
Stained Glass Window by Phillip Medhurst via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank