It’s not GREAT to say it, but it’s the end of Humility Week at the NDD.
Dear Mr. West,
Yes, that is exactly what America wants you to do.
It is confusing, I know. You get messages from every self-help guru of the last 100 years to excel, to be great. You are shown images, videos, books and TV showing people being great. You are told stories of people overcoming incredible odds to become great. You are encouraged to be great by your mother, by your father. Your teachers tell you you can be great.
You go out into the world and pursue your dream. Those capable of influencing that dream; those who could hire you, fire you, produce you, promote you, direct you, invest in you, pay you – they all encourage you to be great. They all praise you when you are great. The people following you; your fans, critics, fellow artists, they all say you are great. You become one of those people who are used as an example of someone who overcame to become great. You are a poster child for becoming great.
Then you make the mistake. Then you do the worst thing you could possibly do. Then you say you are great.
Why can’t you say that? Didn’t the entire world do everything in its power every step of the way in your life to tell you that you could be great and praise you when you did become great? How could it then be wrong to say you are great?
Here’s why: Because in traditional, historic America the most important aspect of being great is being humble. The final proof of greatness is in the great person not being aware of it. Just as the final proof someone is a hero is when they say ‘I am not a hero’. Just as the worst thing a beautiful woman can ever say is ‘I am beautiful’.
Where did this come from? Look no further than the pew. While in every other aspect of American culture we are told to be great, in church we are told we can never be great. We can’t be great because we are fallen, because we sinned, because we have evil in us. We can aspire to be better people, but it is not approved to go too far. Going too far means you have pride. Pride goeth before the fall. If you have pride in yourself you do not understand your true nature. You do not recognize that you are a fallen, debased creature unable to redeem yourself. Trying to be great means you are trying to do that. SAYING you are great means you think you did it, and on your own. And doing it on your own of course means you do not need God. And there is no worse sin than thinking that.
Truth? I think it has often been gigantic, manipulative untruth that has been told in the sanctuary. I think arguments about pride and humility and being fallen have been used as a weapon to keep people, genders, classes and races in their ‘proper’ place. And it has been successful in doing so. I am always happy when I see that element be exposed for the evil it is.
But here is another truth. There is something to be said for understanding self. And understanding self, TRULY understanding self, means you know that you have SOME greatness in you and you have SOME work still do to. It means you understand that you did not achieve this greatness on your own, and that you need to acknowledge and give recognition to those who have helped you on your way. It means you know that it can be taken away from you.
But most of all, over all other things, you should know that no matter how great you become in the eyes of the world seeing you at a distance, it is how you display greatness to those right in front of you that matters most. It is how you love your child, your wife, your husband, your parent. It is how you minister and care to those who depend on you, those who mentor you, those who need you.
When you do that, when you are that, then you won’t be thinking about telling the world you are great. You will just be. And you will be happy and humble when you find others telling the world that you are instead you having to tell the world yourself.