Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Humility or Humiliation?

The story of the life and times of the Earl of Essex continued to roll around in my mind after my last post.

The Earl had made an absolute ass of himself, to say the least. It was finally time to pay up for some of his self-aggrandizing decisions which had compromised the best interests of England. He had followed those decisions with overt and unequivocal treason. He was in a pickle which objectively could not be blamed on anyone but himself. It was time for some good old-fashioned humility. Prior to his treasonous plottings, humility was all the Queen would require of him. The court looked on with some astonishment at Essex's haughtiness in the face of his exposure. Now, convicted of treason, humility was what the Counsel was expecting from him.

"[Essex] asked for mercy for Southampton [a co-conspirator], but said he would not 'fawningly beg' for it for himself, and, looking at the peers, added, 'Although you have condemned me in a court of judgement, yet in the court of your conscience, ye would absolve me, who have intended no harm against the prince.' " The Life of Elizabeth I, pg. 464, emphasis added.

Notice his appeal to his pure intentions. Even though there were other co-conspirators who confessed the plotters were willing to even shed the blood of the Queen to place Essex on the throne, Essex would appeal to the purity of his motives. It was a lie. He was playing the martyr.

"The condemned were generally expected to express humble submission, and Essex's speech was reckoned by many of those present to be unfittingly arrogant for one on the brink of Divine Judgement, and whose guilt was so manifest...

...Many people at court believed that, if Essex begged the Queen for mercy, she would spare his life, but Essex remained true to his word and proudly refrained from making any 'cringing submission'. Despite the efforts of the Dean of Norwich, who had been sent to him by the Council, he would not acknowledge his guilt." Ibid. pg. 465

Ah, yes, a life of arrogance and pride and haughty refusal to ever submit to authority had rendered Essex incapable of humility when it could have possibly saved his life. Which leads me to one of life's axioms...

We either voluntarily humble ourselves or life will humiliate you. Sooner or later. We get to choose. Humility or humiliation.

When we make mistakes, when we hurt someone, when we sin, we face a choice. The decent person will take ownership of what he has done. He will not try to lessen his guilt by spreading the blame or offering up excuses. He volunteers to humble himself. Decent people will not savage the humbled. It appeals to their sense of mercy and compassion. We tend to think more highly of a person who will display some true and appropriate humility.

Narcissists don't get this. They despise the humble, therefore they will not assume humility when the circumstances demand they should. They then rail against the humiliation they must suffer at the hands of ingrates and idiots. In refusing humility they have earned humiliation.

The humble can't be humiliated. They are not invested in protecting an image. They are not craving the adulation of the masses. They are not looking for recognition. They don't strive to lay claim to being the smartest, the most beautiful, the most talented, the supreme pinnacle of mankind. How can you humiliate a truly humble man? Even if you strip him of his reputation, his livelihood, his clothing...he has his integrity. He knows who he really is; he can not be shamed. He can still walk with his shoulders squared and look you steadily in the eye. Humility doesn't mean beaten down. It means taking a proper assessment of oneself and recognizing your limitations. It is being real with yourself and the world. A humble man has dignity. The narcissist thinks humility is humiliation. The two concepts are not the same. We would do well to know the difference.

The narcissist is an accomplished shame deflector. Because of this he is mostly insensible to the humiliation he does eventually earn. We marvel at his imbecility. We wonder what it is like to be so exposed and yet have no ability to behave as if his sins have been laid bare. We call it madness. It is not. It is supreme arrogant pride. The only avenue to avoid the humiliation that finally catches up with him was closed off long, long ago. His absolute refusal to humble himself leaves him open to the ridicule and disgust of the decent. In the end. Someday.

Humility or humiliation. It is a choice we each get to make.

A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.
Proverbs 29:23 KJV

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3

6 comments:

kroseloree said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Anna....

I have been consistently amazed (and confused) by my Nmom's inability to accept what she is NOT. There is no shame in realizing and admitting the limitations of being a human being. In order for her to consistently NOT feel shame when she is exposed, she has a ready 'reason' (excuse) for why she is like she is....and why it is impossible for her to change. Yet....get this....she INSISTS that I maintain 'good character'..'be not weary in well-doing'..etc. Somehow or another she is EXEMPT from what applies to all other people. There is no shame in living a REAL life....'real', meaning to know who we are and who we are not....that we have limitations, make mistakes, and that we can make amends, pick up where we left off, trusting that God and our fellow man will see the intent of our Hearts. She will not accept either the 'humbling' nor the 'humiliation' that comes from admission or exposure. Slippery....confounding...characterless.....unbelievable to say the least. Uh...reprehensible.

Carry on, Anna! Good stuff.

Naive No Longer said...

I think that the supreme haughty arrogant pride is the thing that most makes me most want to vomit when I think of my mother. The outrageous audacity of her actions makes me shudder. The complete and total unbending and unyeilding to anything other than her version of reality is sick.

In my naivetee (ha! - no longer...been-there-done-that) I used to think I could somehow, some way receive some morsel of compassion/humility/empathy from this human being. Ahh, but it is never to be. Not even a morsel of acknowledgement of any wrong-doing on her part that needed to be recognized - EVER. It is always twisted into something else. And then somehow masterfully woven into a tapestry of how SHE is the bigger person for forgiving YOU for "falsely accusing" her.

The thing that boggles my mind is that she continues to "flourish" like some god-awful weed. Nothing seems to bring her down.

Stormchild said...

"The thing that boggles my mind is that she continues to "flourish" like some god-awful weed. Nothing seems to bring her down."

Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam, mahlen aber trefflich klein
Ob aus Langmut er sich säumet, bringt mit Schärf' er alles ein.
--Friedrich von Logau

Translated by Longfellow as:
The Mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.

Perhaps we should add:

We with narcissists in family, or as colleagues, also know -
Though the mills of God grind finely, yet they grind exceeding slow.

[my source for the von Logau couplet]

Nicola said...

I too am constantly amazed at this. I have been reminded about this time when NM baked a cake which burnt. rather than admit the cake was burnt, ie she had made an error she BLAMED HER OWN 3yr old Granddaughter. She actually projected onto a vulnerable child. She haughtily informed me that GC had "fiddled" with the stove behind NMs back and turned up the heat. I expressed surprise that GC hadnt got burned, touching the buttons around a hot stove (remember she was only 3 at the time) Turns out that she fiddled with the over prior to NMs baking episode. So the truth was that NM had made a cake, put it in the oven, switched it on WITHOUT CHECKING THE SETTINGS - but rather than just laugh it off as an error on her part she had to project the blame elsewhere. disgusting. If she had come clean and admitted her mistake I would have had so much more respect for her.

Barbara said...

My therapist said almost this same thing to me the other day: How can you humiliate a truly humble man? Even if you strip him of his reputation, his livelihood, his clothing...he has his integrity. He knows who he really is; he can not be shamed. He can still walk with his shoulders squared and look you steadily in the eye. Humility doesn't mean beaten down. It means taking a proper assessment of oneself and recognizing your limitations. It is being real with yourself and the world. A humble man has dignity.

Beautifully said Anna!

Anonymous said...

I love the subtitle of this Blog:

No life is ever a complete failure; it can always serve as a bad example.

I live this creedo when evaluating the contributions of my NPD father to my life.

I love the comparison of Humilty versus Humiliation. Very insightful. It is true that my NPD father, ever the egoist and chock full of self-important blather, never sees the the humiliation he brings on himself. He simply does not leave that channel open. We all know... but him.

I have a saying I use to help me understand when I'm full of BS and in need of a reality check: nobody is ever fooled.

So stop pretending. A healthy adult will understand this immediately, a NPD will never understand this.

As always, great stuff. Wish I had found this site sooner.