“I stand here today humbled by the task before us”


I had never considered the virtue of humility, the necessity magic that is conjured by being humble, until I began working with Caroline Myss’s book about Teresa of Avila’s theology, Entering the Castle.

Raised in the 80s age of self esteem – you can do anything, sky’s the limit, everyone is an individual snowflake worthy of accolades and advancement – humility was never considered a noteworthy skill. Who had time to learn what humility was when there were so many dreams to be chased and so much self promotion to be done ? The only way to get into college and then get a good job and be any sort of success at all was to learn young and learn well: you need to constantly remind the world that you are unique and worthy.

Slowly, the recognition that humility is in fact a virtue, not just the fall back plan for quiet kids who’ll never win the best prizes, has started to color my life. If you know me in the flesh, I’ll let you be the judge of whether that approach is really working… At least I can tell you I am thinking about it!

Humility has come to mind all week because I am still struck by the very first line of Barack Obama’s inaugural address: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

Part of our new president’s mystique is his quiet confidence, his even demeanor and delivery, his deep belief in himself that allows him to move from this place of humility. We can all pray that this quality endures in him so that he can open his heart and mind to other perspectives and continue to work with the common good as his ultimate goal.

It is becoming more and more clear that humbleness not just an attitude for monks and scullery maids. Taking humility beyond an interior dialog with the soul and watching its practical application on the stage of presidential politics makes this spiritual work make a new sort of sense.

Like I said, humility never meant much to me until a couple of years ago when I picked up Myss’s book. I am left to wonder how many other brilliant words and ideas like that still circle around me, as yet ignored and unacknowledged. I know I cannot get hung up on all of the visions that have not yet revealed themselves to me – that is a sure way to madness, looking desperately for the next moment of enlightenment. It just inspires me once again: this journey through life offers so much promise, such evolution of the mind and soul, so many opportunities to look at this adventure of living afresh.

A couple more bits of wisdom from that incredible speech on January 20:

inaug-speechAs we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

4 thoughts on ““I stand here today humbled by the task before us”

  1. brandi January 25, 2009 / 1:00 pm

    this post and your comment on mine were much needed to me today. I especially resonated with the ideas of learning more of humility as I too was brought up with the 80’s ideals.

    thank you for sharing and for reaching out to me today.

  2. Barbara January 25, 2009 / 2:24 pm

    I am one who has watched those brought up on 80’s ideals crash and burn. Humility is all about the earth and being down-to-earth, not debasing oneself. It is recognizing the strengths and the weaknesses we each have.
    I found the Obama inaugural address like a refreshing splash of cold water on an overheated face. Our parents and grandparents understood that it was less than honest to claim more than we could possibly deliver, to operate within a cocoon of bravado. The USA under Bush did just that, to its detriment. It is not a step down to practice humility, but a step toward reality and humanity and good will.

  3. Tess January 26, 2009 / 6:34 am

    Humility has indeed been out of common currency for a while. The word seems to have become associated with the Uriah Heep-ish “ever so ‘umble” and thus discredited. And it’s so very obvious and ugly when politicians engage in false humility (our late unlamented PM Tony Blair was a bit of a one for this).
    Seems to me that humility lives in us as part of our human uncertainty – that secret place inside where even while we put forward our argument we wonder if we are right.
    And (not to harp on about Benedictine spirituality but, oh here I go anyway!) the first word of the Rule of Benedict is “Listen”. And that is a prerequisite for humility.
    I think Barbara’s right on the money with her “refreshing splash of cold water” comment.

  4. Catch 22 October 22, 2009 / 10:01 am

    I apologize for coming here to disagree. It seems you are describing the “entitlement generation” that is graduating college as we speak, and not the 1980’s belief system as I personally interpret it. We grew up with the mantra “Work hard and do the right thing at all times; you can do anything if you really put your mind into it.”

    This to me is not arrogance or megalomania. It is perhaps “Hip to be Square” idealism that dreams can come true. Utter belief in that.

    I had my take at the 1980s generation in my own blog, perhaps you will want to check out. You may not identify though. It’s in the post “Carl Sagan’s Indigo Children.” Your comments will be welcome.

    BTW, I loved Obama’s speech. The humility you see in it, to me, is historical realism. To be realistic you need it. Arrogance or delusions of self importance, if anything, make us blind to what really IS.

    Hope you don’t mind this small intrusion of mine.

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