Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gandhi, Humiliating and Humbling.

"The First principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating." -Gandhi

Humiliate: to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.

Humble: to make humble in spirit or manner.

The important distinction to be noticed, is the differences between humiliation and humility. Both involve the act of being brought low. One, however, requires the subject and object to be the same party, with a will to humble himself. The other involves an involuntary humbling, and more than likely two parties.

When I humble myself I am acting in a free manner, but if I am humiliated, someone else has acted upon me in such a way as to remove my free will and has brough me low through some source (be it physical/mental, or spiritual). The moment self-giving loved is replaced with force of any kind, violence has crept in and there is a rupture in human relations.

Thanks to our human capacity for exaggeration and escalation, the word humiliate can take on a trivial nature. I am reminded now of the teen who goes out in public with her parents. When one of them does something "parentally odd," the teen becomes "humiliated" or even "mortified."

And yet, this is not really humiliation as I understand it. Their embarrassment is rooted in their own pride, that they have not even attempted to give up freely in a genuine attempt at humility. I say that I am reminded of a teen, but in reality I am just as guilty of confusing prideful embarrassment with humiliation in my own life.

Humiliation need not be some grand act of maliciousness to be harmful to another person though. A rape victim is surely a sever example of someone being humiliated in so many ways, but the less severe interactions of our snarky and cynical age can be humiliating to our chosen targets as well.

How often do we make the sarcastic remark to our friends about something they said or did? How often do we take it upon ourselves to point out their deficiencies at inopportune times "for their own good." How often do we relish the schadenfreude that comes at the misfortune of others? If you are like me, the answer is far too often.

We must be vigilant and guard against all forms of humiliation, because it is so easy for it to creep into our routine. My generation has grown up in the MTV era where cynicism, sarcasm, and biting satire are the norm for public and private discourse. It is much easier to laugh at our enemies mistakes than our own because we let our pride inflate our self-opinion by deflating the worth we assign to them.

The opposite, and in my mind much harder, approach is to place a high value on sincerity. Sincerity that allows us to show concern for our friends and enemies. Sincerity that is able to discern when things have gone too far. Sincerity that says, you know what I don't agree with you, but you do not deserve to be treated as you have been.

This starts with our friends and inner circles. We certainly need relationships which allow us to speak freely into someone else's life as they can speak into ours. What is important is that this be a mutually chosen way of interacting. The intent is important in this case as well. if our goal is to build others up, that may entail appropriately acknowledging their shortcomings, but it does not involve humiliating them in little ways over time.

When we have learned to do this with our inner circle, it will become easier to do this with those we know less, or even not at all.


Robb said...

It's interesting that you bring up learning to start this with our inner-circle because it's often very easy to actually be most sarcastic, cynical, and incisively critical with them because I feel like I've been noticing an extra amount of intra-Christian behavior lately - particularly by or between leaders and denominations at a general public level.

For some reason there seems to be very little value of humility in Christian discourse, and so naturally some form of humiliation of each other is often taken. I don't know if it's because we feel there's more worth in valuing being right about something than understanding the positions and strategies of discourse, or what. I definitely think wanting to be faithful to God's revelation and lovingly hold brothers and sisters accountable is a natural and important part of Christian life together, but it definitely gives one pause that our religion finds the nexus of its meaning and existence where Jesus decided it was most important not to win.

rheimbro said...

I would agree. I think that is why that saying stuck out to me like it did.

I definitely notice those tendencies in myself. There is an element of 'trying to be funny' that comes with it. But, if the cost of being funny is to tear down those you care about then I am not sure it is worth it. I am also not sure how one goes about making those changes.

On a more public level it is really rough though. Whatever frustrations I have had about the right-wing rhetoric this summer, there has not always been the best rhetoric out of the left-wing either. We could play the game of who is saying more horrible things, but when both sides are dropping the nazi/hitler references it just makes me sick.

I think your thought about our need to be right is pretty much on target. Having "convictions" and sticking to your guns is a highly prized trait in our society, but it leaves little room for compromise, so that has become the big dirty word.

I honestly don't know enough about Ted Kennedy's work outside of what the news orgs. have been writing about him since his death. One thing they have painted him as is the guy who had strong liberal convictions, but that he also knew how to make the right compromises to pass legislation. If that description is true, then it shows that the two approaches can co-exist in politics (and the politics of church life as well).

Also, I am not sure my delineation between humbleness and humility is quite right. In my mind I think of them the way I presented them, but I guess they are open to other uses as well. The difference between a personal humility and a forced humility is mainly what I was trying to get at though.