There are times when I am tempted to believe that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who say they’re humble when they’re not, and those who misunderstand humility altogether and proudly disavow it.

I blame Uriah Heep.

Fred Barnard07Humility is not insincerity. Nor is it the state of being humiliated. Nor is it badmouthing oneself in order to elicit compliments from others. Humility, as Charles Spurgeon said, is “to make a right estimate of one’s self.” Neither puffed up too high nor grovelling too low, but seeing oneself clearly, as one truly is.

“Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue,” David F Wells wrote in Losing Our Virtue. “Even “humble” attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”

Tranquil center of the universeOh, the relief! Not being the one fixed point around which the universe endlessly turns really takes a lot of pressure off. As the actor Rupert Graves says, “Not being anxious requires a level of humility, doesn’t it? It does, I think. It’s not all about you.” Humility: cheaper than Valium, and with fewer unpleasant side-effects.

But how do we obtain humility? How do we become humble? Sigmund Freud, somewhat unexpectedly, suggests love may be the answer. “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.” If you want to be truly humble, mind you, you might want to think about hocking the whole lot.

According to Phillips Brooks, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” It’s a matter of getting some perspective and seeing things in proportion.

There are, it seems to me, two parts to humility: seeing oneself clearly, and not focussing on oneself. The first requires a certain level of self-examination, and the second – well, doesn’t. Quite the opposite. As with so many things, a balance must be found.

Fotothek df roe-neg 0006507 014 Eine Frau posiert mit Mantel und Hut vor einem Spiegel bei der "InternationalenWe could do worse than take the example of the ‘well-dressed lady’ who checks herself over in the mirror in the morning and then doesn’t give her appearance another thought for the rest of the day.

The quest for humility is, however, frequently inhibited by one’s culture. Some cultures are all for self-aggrandizement; others mandate a sort of false humility, where the Done Thing is to downplay your abilities and achievements.

Some cultures – take New Zealand, for example – sometimes push this to the point of it being frowned upon to do well, let alone talk about it. Conspicuous success invites hostility. Tall Poppy syndrome, it is called, after the story of Tarquin the Great’s unspoken advice to his son on how to conquer the city of Gabii. Let me tell you, Tarquin Jr wouldn’t know what to do with himself in this, the land of hunchbacked poppies.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema 11As the Maori say, Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka; the kumara does not say how sweet he is. Be the kumara; don’t be the Heep.

Of Cats and Cones

I’ve had a whole week now of being a SAHW – a Stay-At-Home-Writer. It’s been great, although my productivity has been slightly decreased by having to feed my cat through a funnel.

Well, that isn’t quite correct. Before you conjure up pictures of a cat at death’s door, allow me to clarify: the cat’s head is in the bottom of the funnel. They call it an Elizabethan ruff, although I doubt HM QEI would thank you for pointing out the resemblance.

We are not amused.

Our elder cat (“the Cat”) managed to nick her achilles tendon – and make quite a mess of the skin that usually covers it – so had to be taken to the vet on Monday, collected on Tuesday, and taken for a post-op check on Thursday. Time-consuming.

She also has to be kept in for ten days, but her son (known as “the Kitten” despite being well over three years old) is still allowed to come and go as he pleases. In the split she got the bathroom and bedrooms and he got the lounge and kitchen. We got – a complicated custody arrangement.
If we spend all our time on the Cat’s side of the Door in the Middle then we hear the Kitten’s plaintive lament on the other side. If we stay on his side, the Cat gets grumpy – and then purrs loudly all night about how happy she is to see us. Passive-aggressive little weasels.

The Cat has been wearing this ruff or cone since Tuesday, which changes her functional dimensions more than she realises. Unfortunately the Code of Cat states that no cat may admit to making a mistake, so if her cone catches on something she has to sit down and pretend that she wanted to stare at the woodwork for ten minutes. Pride is a terrible thing.

She spends the rest of her time giving her celebrated imitations of a vase, a lampshade, a satellite dish, and one of the Invisibles of the 1810s.

Depending on which angle you catch her at, she also portrays either a headless cat or a catless head. Reminiscent of the Cheshire cat, except the grin was the first thing to go, not the last.

Speaking of all things Wonderland, inquiring minds wish to know your opinion on the subject of the Jabberwock/y. Namely, what colour or colours is it? Tenniel presented us with a very vivid image of it, but only in black and white. And what about texture? Thoughts?