Tag Archives: humility

His own precise niche in the temple of fame

C.S. Lewis had quite a bit to say on pride and humility – they aren’t really what we think. Here is my favorite on humility, from The Screwtape Letters. In case you aren’t familiar with this book, it reads like a series of letter from a senior demon to a junior one, discussing the human man that the junior demon is tempting. The “he/him” is the young man (who has recently become a Christian) and “He” or the “Enemy” is God. The bold sections are my highlights.

By this virtue (humility), as by all the others, our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors… You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point.

The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method, thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.

To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.

He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.
His whole effort, therefore, will be to get the man’s mind off the subject of his own value altogether. He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one. Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame.
– C.S. Lewis

This passage has been very helpful for me as I strive for this virtue. I don’t have to discount myself. Instead, I strive to love other people’s talent’s and gifts — and my talents and gifts — for what they are: gifts from God.

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Poor, and Mean, and Despised

“It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in the world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised.”

George Muller