Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Movies and Life Leadership, Part 3: LIFE Lessons in HUMILITY

The past two weeks I have featured two of my three favorite movies—Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which were directed by Kevin Reynolds. I further explained why I enjoy them so much, including the life lessons and character development strategies they personify.    

Today I discuss my third favorite movie, which is perhaps not-coincidentally also directed by Kevin Reynolds. It is called Risen, and was released in 2016.

I cherish Risen in part because of my deeply held religious beliefs, which are centered on Jesus Christ. But that is not the reason I highlight this film in this secular blog post. 

While based on New Testament scripture, Risen is a fictional tale of a Roman Officer who was put in charge of crucifying Christ on Golgotha's Hill. Brilliantly played by Hollywood A-lister, Joseph Fiennes, Clavius is portrayed as a typically smart, strong, ambitious, and ruthless Roman Tribune—a high-ranking officer in the Roman Army. 

After the purported "Resurrection" of the Christ, Clavius is tasked by Pontius Pilate to investigate the matter and, most importantly, locate the body to provide proof that the Christian's tale is—as the Romans believe it to be—a farce. The bulk of the movie follows Clavius in his investigative efforts to accomplish what turns out to be an impossible task. 

Because the movie takes the Christian view that Christ did indeed rise from the dead, Clavius is, of course, thwarted in his mission. But along the way, he learns a LOT about himself and the people (Jews) he has—up until that time—looked down upon as inferior human beings. Two key components of Self-Action Leadership include SELF-AWARENESS and HUMILITY. In order to become self-aware and humble, we must, like Clavius, engage in a great deal of research, investigation, observation, and introspection. Aside from its underlying Christian themes, Risen is a movie about one man's experiences—and the ways in which those experiences invite him to become more introspective, self-aware, and humble than he had ever been before. 

The Role of Self-Awareness in Humility

It has been my observation that many people are relatively non-self-aware and have a somewhat skewed vision about what authentic humility actually entails. To begin with, many people either see themselves as being better, or worse, than they in fact are. Rather than seeing themselves as they really are—as if peering into an objective mirror of reality—many view themselves in a distorted light and manner, as if gazing into a "Fun House" mirror, which is purposely designed to skew perception and distort reality.  
In truth, none of us sees ourselves as we really are in a complete sense; and it is the rare individual who comes close. It is an indication of authentic HUMILITY when a person moves in the direction of being able to see oneself more fully as one really is. It is that kind of accurate self-awareness that serves as the essence of authentic humility. As a wise man once put it: Humility is to make a right estimate of one's self.

"Humility is to make a right estimate of one's self."

Charles H. Spurgeon

Common Misnomers about Humility

One of the biggest misnomers about humility is that people who appear to be humble, or act like they are humble are, in fact, humble. This is because many confuse so-called "humble actions" with authentic personifications of actual humility. In some cases, these actors and actresses may be gradually approaching humility in the sense that their "Act" is motivated by a sincere desire to acquire the virtue. But in other cases, quite the opposite may be true. Indeed, acting out a pretense of humility for the mere sake of appearances can, in fact, be quite prideful! After all, is there anything truly humble or authentic about someone who tries to impress others with how humble they are?

Another misnomer about humility is that recognizing, admitting, and utilizing one's strengths is an indicator of pride. Hiding—or failing to admit and fully utilize—your strengths because you fear you might inadvertently intimidate, offend, or upset someone else is not humility. There will always be those who will take jealous offense at someone else's talent, skill, intelligence, accomplishment, or cultivated ability. That is no reason to ever shy away from being your very best!

Obviously there is a time, place, manner, and degree to which we should let our best be known and shown. Moreover, there are times to shine and there are times when we should let others shine—and do our best to increase the brightness of the light and the volume of the applause that shines on them. But self-action leaders should avoid falling into the trap of failing to put their best foot forward due to some mistaken notion about what it means to be humble.

There is nothing humble about trying to convince yourself or others that you really aren't very good at something when, in fact, you are very good at it. A classic example of this can be found in the person who receives a sincere compliment and then tries to convince the giver of the compliment that it really isn't true. That is not only not humble; it is also impolite. If someone gives you a sincere compliment, the best thing you can do is sincerely thank them for their kindness in giving you the compliment! After all, how many people do you know who never bother to compliment anyone for anything? Like perhaps your boss (past or present)? It's sad, but often true. Bottom Line: you've gotta appreciate those relatively few people who are sufficiently humble, secure, and confident to openly compliment YOU; and you've got to sincerely express that appreciation!    

Recognizing and using your strengths is not arrogant when done with kindness, consideration, modesty, balance, 20/20 vision, and a sincere effort to serve and bless the lives of others. That is merely recognizing reality and making the most of your God-given/self-developed assets, aptitudes, and talents to make the world a better place.

On the other hand, to aggrandize—or brag about—one's strengths in an effort to elevate oneself above others is indeed arrogant; as is utilizing one's strengths to purposely harm another or hinder one's growth, progress, or achievement. But rationally recognizing one's strengths and doing everything in one's power to bolster them (while eliminating or minimizing weaknesses) is actually an element of authentic humility—not the other way around. There is nothing humble about shying away from your capacity and potential; that's just laziness, irresponsibility, and/or unwisely falling prey to the fear of what others—the EXISTENTIAL CRABS, who seek to diminish and otherwise pull you down—might think of you.  

Click HERE to learn about existential crabs, and how they seek to undermine your success as a self-action leader.

Similarly, misguided efforts to lower your own view or estimation of yourself is not humility; nor are efforts to illegitimately aggrandize the same. Humility is an outgrowth of seeing things—including oneself—as they (YOU) really are: the good, the bad, the ugly, the attractive, the coarse and the refined—all wrapped up in one, holistic, imperfect, human package.

As a wise man once exhorted me—on a very piercing and personal level—"Jordan: be mindful of your weaknesses and be aware of your strengths as part of recognizing the tremendous potential you have to accomplish great things and bless the lives of others." 

Be mindful of your weaknesses and be aware of your strengths.

That is a good recipe for authentic humility that all of us can follow.    

Humility is less concerned about what others might think of you and more concerned with doing your best to become your best while helping others to do the same. Truly humble people don't spend undue time worrying about what other's might be thinking of them. Instead, they focus more on how they can improve and grow so they can better serve others. Authentic humility instills within a person an accurate sense of one's utter smallness and profound potential—all at the same time. Humility endows one with a clear recognition of one's limitations while simultaneously imbuing one with a deep reverence for the human spirit—including one's own limitless capacity for growth and creation. It empowers one to more fully comprehend the GREAT HUMAN PARADOX that we are all physically "dust in the wind" while concurrently possessing "infinite and inestimable existential and spiritual value."

Humility is an outgrowth—indeed, it is the very essence—of honest and accurate self-awareness. Such self-awareness can only be obtained by engaging in a great deal of honest, courageous, and intelligent introspection—the kind of introspection that Clavius undertakes in a serious way throughout the movie, Risen.

My Own Journey Towards Self-Awareness

One of the greatest blessings of my life's journey has been my opportunity to engage in an extraordinary amount of honest, courageous, and deep introspection about myself, others, and the world around me. This is due in part to the fact that I am a natural contemplative (philosopher personality). But it is also due to the fact that my life's circumstances have provided me with a LOT of TIME to think deeply and carefully ponder all of the subjects that I now write, teach, and speak about.

These life circumstances have been many and varied, but they all had the same effect of providing me with an unusual amount of time to sit quietly by myself and THINK deeply about important things. For example: having a severe case of OCD in my teen years led to my being, for the most part, a social recluse. This provided me with a lot of time to ponder about my life. OCD also led to a lot of social and other personal flaws and failures that caused me a great deal of pain, suffering, frustration, and even jealousy and anger. Instead of letting this pain and suffering make me eternally bitter and discouraged towards my undesirable circumstances and other people I envied, I used my FREEDOM and POWER as a self-action leader to think deeply about what my problems were and how I could solve them. Solving them was not quick or easy; but it was possible, and in time, much has been accomplished to solve them!

Later, as a young adult, I had very little success in romance until I met my wife. And I wasn't one to "hang out" socially—an activity that seemed like mostly a wasted expenditure of my time. Spending relatively little time dating or casually socializing and not getting married until I was 29 left me with a LOT more time on my hands to PONDER than most people my age who led a more lively social life. I have also done a TON of travel in my life and career, which has taken me to all 50 U.S. States, 8 Countries, 9 Counties of Great Britain, and 8 Provinces of Canada. I have logged a million or so miles in automobiles and airlines as an adult, most of which was done on my own. 

That is a LOT of self-awareness time!

Then there is my training as a triathlete. All told, I have ran, biked, and swam thousands of combined miles over the course of my life. As any triathlete knows, the journey can be a lonely one—that is, unless you are a natural contemplative, and then you just have that much more time to think, ponder, pray, analyze, scrutinize, synthesize, etc. For me, the results of all this cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and existential "me time" have been profoundly productive, both in terms of my own, personal growth and my capacity to help others grow as well. It has also helped me to become more self-aware and humble. I still have a long ways to go, no doubt, but I've also made a lot of progress. 

Speaking of which, there are some who suggest that it is fundamentally incompatible to be humble while simultaneously recognizing your own humility. I suggest otherwise. There is obviously a fine line where such self-back patting can quickly turn prideful, egotistical, and counterproductive. Nevertheless, what good are you as a self-action leader if you are incapable of recognizing, gauging, and judging your own growth and improvement? If you are unaware of your own progress in cultivating a virtue, how can you know that you still have room for further growth? It is difficult enough as it is to be truly humble; let's not make it even more challenging by artificially creating a bunch of unnecessary and unrealistic qualifications and mind games that only serve to discourage us along the way! The prospect of human growth in any arena should serve to motivate us to move forward, however incrementally, rather than discourage any attempt to begin with.    

It is vital to note that self-awareness is not always accomplished on one's own. I, for one, had a TON of HELP from OTHERS in the form of spiritual leaders, psychiatrists, counselors, family members, teachers, coaches, mentors, roommates, and friends all along the way. But I still had to do the hard work that led to my own growth, progress, and achievement, and a LOT of that work was cognitive in nature. A whole host of different people can show you the way to go; but ONLY YOU can make the journey.    

is the story of a man who is similarly blessed with the time and opportunity to think deeply about what is going on around him and inside of him. As a result, Clavius becomes increasingly self-aware and humble as the film goes on. This doesn't mean he is any less strong, capable, or confident. Remember: inhibiting your strengths or trying to convince yourself you are less capable than you really are is NOT humility. Nor does it mean that Clavius becomes a Christian. It simply means that he comes to see himself—and circumstances around him—more accurately: the way things really are, rather than the way he has erroneously perceived them to be in the past. And that is my own favorite definition of humility.

Humility is seeing things as they really were, really are, and really will be
—and then acting in deferent accordance with that knowledge.         

Tune in NEXT Wednesday for the remainder of this post, entitled: LIFE Lessons in HUMILITY, Part 2  

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