We tested this notion at a program at Temple Beth-El on Sunday, Nov. 20. Entitled"Humble Enough? An Interfaith Conversation," the event featured presentations by speakers from a number of faith traditions (Methodist, United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ, Society of Friends, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Unitarian Universalist and Jewish). Each speaker offered his or her perspective on humility, sharing teachings from past and present, parables and personal stories.
When it was my turn to speak about humility, I focused on specific insights that have emerged from my tradition over the last 3000 years. I noted that Abraham and Moses were both considered humble.
The prophet Micah’s call for people to "walk humbly/ modestly with God" is more than a religious principle.
Author and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has explained that not to walk humbly means to go to the other extreme, arrogance, which might lead a person to think that ONLY his or her views, beliefs and positions must be right and true. The 12th Century Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, taught that, for most character traits, it was best to try to stay in the middle, keeping an even disposition, except when it came to humility. Maimonides insisted that extreme humility was the best approach to lead us to gain self-respect and the respect of others, and to enable us to appreciate the gifts life has given us.
Following the statements by the panel members, participants engaged in small-group discussions on several questions presented to them about what it means to be humble. These insightful responses might help us understand what it means to give and to receive in the coming weeks and throughout the year:
• Be willing to be vulnerable.
• Recognize that we are interdependent with all that is
• Listen intently to others.
• Approach life and the world with a sense of awe and wonder.
• Accept your limitations and be sensitive to the limitations of others.
• Choose to learn from adversity and grow from it
• Look at people as human beings, past differences
• Each of us is not better or worse than anyone else.
• Recognize the blessings we all have and, in turn, help bring blessing to others.
• Say little and do much.
• Start everything in the name of God. When an opportunity comes your way, say to yourself, "God let me do this."
• No person should put himself/ herself above anyone else.
• Find and respect the divine in every person.
• Don’t presume that we know all there is to know.
• Open your heart.
• Serve others.
• Accept yourself as you are.
Many of these statements remind us to "keep ourselves in our place" with a feeling of pride and confidence. There are, however, times when we need "a lift" when we find ourselves in a place of despair. Over 200 years ago, Rabbi Simcha Bunem said, "Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and discouraged, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’"
If we are able to strike that balance, we may well be able to intently listen to each other, to understand the respective truths by which we live and to realize that our humility has the power to keep us together in ways we cannot yet imagine. May we be open to that possibility.