Humiliation. Why are we so easily humiliated? Of course we don’t show it, but we feel it. Why is that? Humiliate is derived from the root that includes humble, but in its fullest meaning humbleness is a strong sense of self confidence while to be humiliated is to be degraded, to be made to feel ashamed or silly. Why are we so easily humiliated and, perhaps, find is so difficult to be humble?
I suspect that part of the reason is that most of us are not very confident in either our place in society or the most intimate of our relationships. In society we do not want to be made to feel foolish. We do want to be appreciated for who we really are and what we really do. Yet I have often heard the most powerful of executives admit that if “they” ever find out who I really am “they” would never let me be here. For many reasons most adults are not all that confident about their place in society. They can fake it by being blustery or arrogant, but it’s mostly a pretense. A recent Baldo cartoon had teenager Baldo wondering why he ever wore what he had on today and was certain that everyone was looking at him. The next scene pulled back to reveal a school cafeteria full of teenagers all thinking the same thing. Most of us gain more self confidence than that as we mature, but it takes almost nothing to send us back to those times. We do not want to be made to feel foolish. Who is that makes us feel foolish? Mostly we do it to ourselves.
Our intimate relationships share some similarities. It’s not that we are unsure of our closest friends and dearest loves, but because they are so close to us and mean so much to us, we do not want to appear foolish in their sight. It’s humiliating presume upon a friend or loved one’s availability or interest in some particular thing only to discover how wrong we were in our expectations. There are dozens of usual responses to our humiliation ranging from petulance, abusive behavior, and stoic silence to obsequiousness. I tend to favor petulant grumpiness myself. Whatever, they all come from our feelings of humiliation.
So what are we to do about that? I suppose the first order of business is to do a reality check. What is it that has led to these feelings and is it real? As my grandfather often said, “I’ve faced an awful lot of problems in my life, most of which never happened.” I’m told that originated with Mark Twain, but grandfather made it his own. The second step is more difficult, and that is to more authentically take on our identity as beloved children of God in Christ Jesus. That identity allows, indeed demands, that we be honest about four things. First, our fallen and sinful nature that is constantly tripping us up through our own fault (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). Second, the forgiveness that is ours in Christ that wipes the slate clean in God’s eyes despite the consequences we may have to endure in the meantime. Third, our commission to go forth as agents continuing Christ’s ministry in our own way and according to our own abilities. Finally, the fullness of our ability to be so completely self confident in who we are that we need not embarrass, humiliate or degrade anyone, including ourselves.
If we can accomplish these things we can exchange our humiliation for humility, and that would be good.