I was reminded the other day of my travels in India.
We were driving through the ghettos of Mumbai. Our host was an Indian businessman who had made many millions of dollars in the recruitment industry. Why this story springs to mind is the scene I recall from the streets where he, as a “lower caste” man, spoke proudly of how he had lifted himself by his bootstraps out of poverty and built his empire.
As he spoke of this, a dirty, ragged little girl – a beggar obviously – with beautiful, beautiful angel eyes came up to the window of his new Mercedes, and put her hand on the window to try see through the reflective tinting. I was saddened, and heartbroken to see the vitriol and disgust in his face and voice as he cursed her and threatened her with violence to get away from his car and leave him alone. No hand of compassion, no acknowledgement that he was once not so different as she is now…
I learned later during my time in Dubai, that many of the millions he made were made from the sweat and tears of indentured slave labour – people who mortgaged their lives and their family’s meager assets, and handed over their passports, for the promise of financial freedom and a new life in Dubai. But they were effectively sold into economic slavery in labour camps, unable to return home, and unable to earn enough to pay their debts.
The picture of his disgust for another human being has stayed with me, as clear as the day I first saw it. And the willingness to make profit from the destitute and desperate has stuck with me, a palpable wound on my heart each time I am reminded of it. I have great passion for the potential within each and every human being, and to see a person imprisoned by circumstance and then – unbelievably – forced to stay there by the attitudes and deliberate actions other human beings, is a great travesty for me.
I struggle to see us, co-labourers and fellow travellers all, having lost touch with basic humanity, and with our own basic humility. The total absence of “There, but for the grace of God, go I”…
Humility. A deep heartfelt gratitude for what one has, free of dominion and free of greed…
I am privileged to have known a few exceptionally humble people in my time… many of whom I am proud to still call friends. Some are rich, others not. Some are pastors, some businessmen and entrepreneurs. Some are Grammy winners, some are completely unknown.
Humility is a rare gift, and it is deeply, deeply attractive and heartwarming. There is a deep and lasting beauty in those whose worlds and perspectives are correctly aligned; those who view themselves accurately and others respectfully.
I recently read that humility is “not thinking less of oneself; it is thinking of oneself less”.
I love that. How amazing to see individuals who are complete and content within themselves, happily living with more than enough spare resources and able to invest time and energy at will, in the beauty of another’s world. These people are for me, the true heroes of each and every day.
These are the people whose strength and capacity is gently and kindly used in service and in protecting others.
Who uncomplainingly go the extra mile. Often.
Who would rather everybody wins, than that only they win.
These are the people whose personal struggles stay private, because they are keeping their internal strain from negatively affecting the lives of others
These are the people who can gently withdraw, or give way, so that others can get the benefit of a diminishing resource.
These are the people who would rather be kind, than be right.
These are the people who reach out with effort, time and resources to give to people who can never, ever repay them.
These are people who play their part faithfully and conscientiously, without a need for the spotlight, because the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and when we play ours gracefully and harmoniously, everybody wins.
And even more beautiful is where they choose to stay anonymous in doing so.
How often are we engrossed in our world and how it feels and looks to us. Is it working for us and benefitting us? And how often do we lose out on an opportunity to enjoy and enhance the world of the ones nearby, as we wrestle with our own desires to be centre stage; only expending energy when there is a positive return for us? How often do we let the voice of our own demands and “needs” drown out the equally relevant – and maybe even more desperate – voice of other’s needs?
And sadly, in how many cases is this so deeply habitual, and so ingrained by our coping mechanisms, our upbringing and brokenness, that we can’t even realize that this is “me”.
There are some who have actively chosen to be the centre of every world they are part of, by hook or by crook, force or influence. There is not even the pretense of humility, and often times humility is regarded as a sign of weakness, and the humble deserve to be exploited.
There are others whose brokenness drives them to achieve and maintain “relevance” and “importance”, to be centre stage because anything less is oblivion in their eyes.
These are challenging people to be around, sometimes, because although their desire is for connection, and they seek it out, the bridges they build are undermined by fear and insecurity and they cannot interpret events around them except through the lens of how it impacts them personally.
I see similar situations all around me – none as intense, none as cold and devaluing of people as that time in India, but in their own way, creating a similar outcome. I live in a highly advanced culture, and one would think that these cultures would have overcome individual greed and “winning” at the expense of others, in favour of community wellbeing. But winning nowadays seems to be what it is all about, and as long as we can stay blind by avoiding looking at the consequences of others “losing” when we win at their expense, then winning by any means is OK.
But winning at the expense of others is not always OK.
The old saying is true, I think… “You can tell how civilized a society is by the way it treats the defenceless in its midst”
Society is made up of lots of you’s and me’s. Our personal choices matter. So so much.
Vaughan, I love this story. I can relate so clearly to images of the labourers and labour camps. It seems so long ago – but its not. It makes me wonder how does a person ever leave that poverty cycle? How many people that we once knew are still trapped by circumstance and anothers greed?
Saddened and feeling humble.
This is a powerful story and a timely reminder to all of us living a First World life. We are where we are because we were lucky to be born here, and life has been good to us, not because we deserve it.
Thanks for this, Vaughan. In this man’s case, self-improvement truly was a form of self-rejection, which he then was able to project onto the world around him. Your reflections on true humility are invaluable. Thanks again.
So true, Kelly. I have been thinking lately that people’s behaviour is a great predictor of their self image… Someone who hates themselves is hardly capable of loving another…
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