Really great and true things are always simple and humble – Leo Tolstoy
FOR most of his extraordinary life, Albert Einstein hung portraits on his wall of two scientists, Newton and Maxwell, as role models to inspire him.
Near the end of his life, Einstein replaced them with portraits of Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi.
Einstein said he realised he needed role models, not of success, but of humility.
Humility is one of those words — like grace, sacred and holy — that seem to be archaic and somewhat embarrassing in this market-driven age. The meek might inherit the earth — eventually — but not right now.
Many of the thousands flocking to New Age faiths to channel their goddess, their inner child, personal angel or the shaman chief they were in a previous life are searching for consumable spirituality — a quick guru fix.
They are merely trying to elevate their ordinary narcissistic impulses into a religion when they really need to discover their own insignificance in the universe, and be humbled.
The poet William Stafford said successful people do not write poems. The poet has to kneel down for them, he said.
Writer Louise Rafkin went further. She wrote of indulging in the Japanese practice of cleaning communal toilets as a way to self-knowledge and discovering that the best writing, like the best music and art, is grounded in ordinary experience.
We do well to repeat Galileo’s modest “I do not know”.
The 19th century Christian William Temple counselled his congregations to avoid the sort of obsessive religious humility that “consists in being a great deal occupied about yourselves”.
“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people. It means freedom from thinking about yourself, one way or the other, at all,” he said.
For Temple, there was no greater example of humility than Jesus Christ who “although born rich, became poor”.
Born amid the dung in a stable, a humble carpenter for most of his life, homeless during his ministry and dying naked on a cross, he placed himself on a very human level.
He expressed, in human terms, the stress he faced via his temptation in the wilderness, and his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The lesson is that sometimes one must go as low as possible to find God.