Reconciling Humility and Self-Worth in the Age of Ego

Reconciling Humility and Self-Worth in the Age of Ego

by Renee Long August 07, 2018 1 Comment

Be brave, because you are a child of God.
Be kind, because so is everyone else.

This is the benediction spoken at the end of every service at my church in Pacific Beach. For a while, it rang in my ears like every other truism in the spiritual arena: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

But I think this benediction encapsulates the exact balance we must strike between humility and healthy self-worth.

Humility is a word I’ve chewed over since my years in Catholic high school. Make yourself low. Put others before yourself. As a young person, this makes sense when you realize it feels better to give than receive.

Recently, I had to reframe my ideas around humility. To me, humility was connected to the “fallen” trope Christians are told in both Catholic and Evangelical circles. We are broken. We come into the world broken, marked by original sin. We have fallen. We are inherently disposed toward evil. We need fixing. Jesus needs to fix us.

Humility is meant to acknowledge this lowliness, to recognize our innate brokenness so that we can open ourselves up to the healing power of Christ. Turn to any Christian radio station, and you’ll hear lines like, “Help me want the healer more than the healing,” as if Christ died only so we may swallow more pain.

I no longer believe this idea defines the true meaning of humility.

Humility is not the sacrifice of self-worth. But many of us have been conditioned to believe humility is a zero-sum game. I am bad, weak, lesser-than x, and therefore, I am made low to clearly see my place in the universe. From this view, we are able to remove ego and see innate value in others.

We are told to see Christ in others, and therefore, others must be better. Worth more. Again, it is a good thing to see the innate value and image of Christ in others. But recently, I realized humility does not require the expensive cost of self-worth.

Be brave, because you are a child of God.

You, in your individual holiness, are sacred. You, and your unique gifts you bring to the universe, to others, to creation, are immensely and irreplaceably valuable.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” – Martha Graham

The light you will gather and spread in this world is uniquely tinted, and if you choose not to shine this light, in the words of the great Martha Graham, it would be lost to all of us.

You are a child of creation. Shine what you have, and be brave.

In this same breath is the notion that all other beings have their own colored light. That all other things of this universe are immensely and irreplaceably valuable. If their light is squelched, it is also lost to the world. You, nor anyone else, can replace it.

Be kind, because so is everyone else.

Humility is the ability to recognize the unique light and sacredness in others, but to also recognize it in ourselves. Humility is deep connection and understanding.

In a response to the false idea that humility means self-hate, the self-empowerment movement is alive and well. It calls for us to believe in ourselves, that we are uniquely superior, can “fake it till we make it,” sometimes at the expense of others. It tells me, I’m one badass bitch ready to kick ass and take names.

Just as true humility is not an acknowledgment of original sin, self-worth is not reached by feeding the ego. As with humility, amazing acts of work and charity and compassion can manifest with help of the ego. The ego is capable of accomplishing extraordinary things that can change the world and allow us to reach our wildest dreams.

We have only to look at Donald Trump to know the “fake it till you make it” and “I alone can fix this” attitude works. We only have to look at Donald Trump and the horrors occurring before our eyes—child internment camps, the rise in police brutality—to understand the cost of ego-driven self-empowerment.

Perhaps it is because as US citizens, we are so comfortable with the win/lose, zero-sum paradigm––we are bred for competition. We are told our value is tied to what we produce. One brand is always superior to the other. There is one winner at the Super Bowl. You only need to pop over to Buzzfeed’s catalog of listicles to know we are a culture of rankings.

After doing the work of recognizing my own worthiness, I became uncomfortable with the word “humility.” After recovering from years of being told I am an evil thing and broken, how could humility be a good thing? The catch: I did not understand humility at all.

It is possible to recognize the sacred in others, in all things, without having to weigh it against our own value. We can lie down, spread ourselves out on the floor of the universe and look up. We can see the infinite spectrum of light without having to dim our own shine. In fact, I believe we shine brighter with the knowledge that we are shining in harmony.

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Up next: Why I Write Sad Stories

 


Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash




Renee Long
Renee Long

Author

Renee Long is a writer, teacher, and novice scuba diver in San Diego, California. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a finalist for the Cossack Review 2017 October Poetry Prize. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her work can be found in Crazyhorse, Rock and Sling, Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry, The Ruminate Blog, and elsewhere. Renee's blog, LitHabits for Life, explores the connections between writing routine, wellness, and lifestyle habits. Connect with @hayreneenay on Twitter and Instagram or on her website, reneelongwrites.com.



1 Response

Judith Dupree
Judith Dupree

August 14, 2018

Renee, just now catching up with the blog and your contribution. And it’s a perfect time to read this “exposure” of an undercurrent (often not so “under,” is it!?) that has haunted so many. Thanks for phrasing it cogently and infusing it with the timeless Truth about the real concept of humility. Keep on keeping on, girl!

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