I love this quote from C.S. Lewis. There’s quite a bit of truth that many of us need to hear in that quote. While Lewis gains the bulk of his influence in Christian circles, I think his thoughts on humility have value that most anyone can get behind. Or, at least they should. Humility is something that humanity often struggles with in this age, myself included.
One growing issue I personally see in our culture is the over-saturated use of sarcasm. There’s a growing belief that sarcasm can either be an attitude or a personality trait. The problem is that sarcasm is none of those things. Sarcasm isn’t some adjective to be used to define or describe a person, that’s not what sarcasm is nor was intended to be. Sarcasm is a tool used to make light of something. I once read a quote somewhere that charged that saying you’re a sarcastic person is like saying your favorite food dish is salt. I don’t remember who said it, and I’m paraphrasing, but I think the thought is pretty spot on.
So how did this whole idea of humility become a lecture on how sarcasm is effectively employed? Well, go back to the part of Lewis’ original quote, that humility is not about thinking less of yourself. Our culture is so bent towards the over-use of sarcasm that self-deprecation is now the new “humility.” The common thought being, “If I just sarcastically talk down about myself, then people will believe I’m humble and therefore likable.” In simple math terms, sarcasm + self-deprecation = humility. The problem, like the idea of a sarcastic personality, is that this train of thought is not really humility. As Lewis so rightly says, in my opinion, humility is really thinking less of yourself. The essence being that instead of using humor in order to make light of what you perceive to be your shortcomings, you instead turn and consider others and how you rightly can serve them regardless of the payoff involved.
You see, the payoff of sarcastic self-deprecation is in the laughter and perception that others believe you’re humble as a result. It’s not real, because you’re still just thinking of yourself and how others perceive you. The focus is still you. And, the problem with true humility for most is that it rarely has a big payoff. Thinking of and therefore serving others rarely garners any attention from anyone. Unless you’re Mother Teresa, and “Derek” over here isn’t exactly an Albanian nun, then chances are the only person who bears witness to your small acts of kindness and service will be the person you’re serving. But that’s the beauty of humility. Humility isn’t about legacy building or in propping up our need for significance in the public square. In fact, humility shifts the focus off of yourself. Just a thought for today.