Thinking of Yourself, Less

Time to plant.

I remember when humility was a virtue, a quality that most people felt was praiseworthy and useful. We had no trouble distinguishing it from humiliation, which was a shameful condition visited upon us by others. Oh, we liked it when the braggart was forced to “eat humble pie” (sometimes, even, when it was us who had to eat that bitter confection), but mainly we felt that baking that pie and nibbling at it regularly was not just good medicine but often a sweet and sustaining way to eat.

Here’s today’s question: does a humble writer try to increase his page views by shamelessly flogging his ‘brand’? (“Duh, of course!”) Or to put it another, less JH.comAllTheTimeHeyEnoughAboutMeWhatDoYOUThinkOfMyWebsite?- centric way, how can we use the incredible connectivity and expressive potential of social media without becoming insufferably dull and incurably self-absorbed? I don’t know, and mainly err on the side of Luddism and avoidance.

Steve Rushin wrote a characteristically witty piece called “Song of Ourselves” recently, which despite his self-deprecation had more than a hint of the lament for a lost cause. “There was a time when our most famous professional athletes were…cartoonishly immodest men like Muhammad Ali,” he wrote in the “Point After” column of the July 29 edition of Sports Illustrated. His point, though, was not so much a sporting one. While many contemporary athletic greats, he noted, are known for their low-key and modest approaches to their very public lives and work, the rest of society seems to have turned in exactly the opposite direction. “My waffles want me to friend them,” Rushin writes. “My oatmeal has asked me to follow it.”

He’s taller than he looks in the magazine.

Rushin is a funny and engaging writer, but he’s also a very humane one. (And it shouldn’t surprise you too much to read such hearty societal concern in the pages of SI. It covers the (mainly North American) playground, it’s true, but there’s always more to sport than wins and hits and PED scandals.) His dismay at the apparently overwhelming tide of “hey, hey, look at me, do you see how ME I am?” is clear, but not heavy-handed, and it makes for a highly recommended short read. He recalls, with only a few self-mocking barbs, an old-fashioned code of honour that did not chronically, almost sociopathically, seek eyeballs, but celebrated any sort of success with dignity and, notably, with a joy that was smilingly shared with those who had helped to create it.

Just before the ruefully grinning irony of his conclusion, Rushin quotes C.S. Lewis’s superb definition of humility, but he doesn’t seem to hold out much hope of its coming back into vogue anytime soon. After all, there are brands to be built, like, well, like mine. And his. But all self-flattery and humble-bragging and mock seriousness aside, Rushin does our social discourse a small and true service in this article. To paraphrase the great sage ‘Abdu’l-Baha, perhaps we could try humility for a while. If concern for and service to others turns out to be dull and unproductive, I guess we could easily go back to rampant self-promotion, tackiness and narcissism. They’re easy to come by.   

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