HUMILITY IS THE HALL MARK OF THE GREAT AND THE FALSE
ONE OF THE ESCAPIST
For this Sunday's special article, we have a former student of Bhagawan's
Institute, Sri Y Arvind, deliberating on the most important virtue -
In the words of John Adair, “greatness is a word that signifies a matter of
degree, it can be applied separately or collectively to position and rank,
knowledge and character, the three main strands of authority in leadership.
In democracies there is a subdivision between great position, great rank,
insofar as the highest born or the first in the social order, do not
necessarily rule the country.
People may be perceived to be great on the basis of their office or lineage.
This may suffice for a period of time such as their term in office or
perhaps their lifetime; but for a person to be truly great in the historical
sense, there must have been a really significant achievement. More than this
achievement, the personal traits matter. The character of the person with
office and to an extent the lineage, give a measure of his or her greatness
– or other wise.
The world as we perceive it today has returned in full to the time when it
all began. The Stone Age – when man first learnt to think and live – not
merely exist – he first realised that might is right and so attempted to be
on the right side of the line that demarcated the ruler and the ruled. But
history has always proved to be a story of great men and women, warriors,
kings, monarchs, prophets…every one of them has a place in history. But why
is it that few find a place in the true annals of time as great people? Why
does the fact remain that even in a dynasty of rulers some receive greater
attention and are termed ‘great’ while others receive only passing mention.
Any historian would answer pointing to the special qualities of the
stalwarts for only the great leave indelible footprints on the sands of
time; only the noble perform deeds worth emulation; only the courageous
inspire man to better his best and only the humble teach not by mere precept
but by example that to be able to serve is a prerequisite to be served.
Humility is indeed the hallmark of the great.
Humility, more often than not, is misinterpreted and misunderstood to be a
synonym of meekness and servility. But humility is itself power. History
gives testimony to the power, latent in a silent humble man – “beware the
anger of the patient man” warned Confucius. From the Chinese Taoist Lao tzu
to Mahatma Gandhi, from Lord Jesus to general Montgomery , their lives are
an infallible vindication to this fact. Any action or venture that involves
other people or developing a rapport with other members of society – demands
first a patient ear and then a humble bearing, virtues of humility and
reserved speech that call for greater attention, than pompous mien. The
desiderata found in St Paul ’s church dating back to ages before the advent
of modern philosophers, says, “give every man thy ear but few thy tongue; be
on good terms with all but without surrender.” Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
simply says “you cannot always oblige but you can speak always obligingly”.
In Chinese philosophy water is attributed the quality of humility. In fact
Lao tzu writes “how did the great rivers and the seas get their kingship
over the hundred tiny streams
Through the merit of being lower than they;
that was how they get their kingship.” Tomas A Kempis, a medieval Christian
writer wrote, “No man can safely appear in public unless he himself feels
that he would willingly remain in retirement. No man can safely speak who
would not rather be silent. No man can with safety command who has not
learnt to obey.” Such words though profound in wisdom – regretfully also
have a less appealing implication – the modern politician.
The present day scenario in the political world, is a scene so disturbing
that the less it is thought of the greater the peace. There could be no
greater folly than such an attitude. Why did this situation arise?
Unfortunately this far reaching hydra headed monster of the nexus between
politics and criminals has its roots in the words of Tomas A Kempis. How?
The answer is: beginning as a stooge – a minor antisocial element, a
ruffian, a hired muscle, a man makes his way up. He obeys his master’s
slightest wish, he serves humbly catering to his master’s whims. Then using
this façade of humility inches his way up – callously eliminating any
competition. He gains the favour of his master, becomes his right hand man,
learns the trade and realizes the best market for a man like him and hey
presto! – you have a politician.
Here in brief is the making of a great man…the great escapist. They don the
mantle of responsibility bear the titles that proclaim authority and make a
song and dance about their honesty. In all their attempts they could not
have been more dishonest. Ripping apart the fabric of their country for
their own selfish gains; these looters play with the lives of the very same
populace that once fed them. The political arena has been used only as an
example to portray the hollowness of an escapist’s mind. Their reach extends
into all walks of life and so life today is not life but a struggle for
existence. The very same noble qualities that have been the bench mark for
the judgement of greatness have been undermined by these escapists.
Every leader is not granted the epithet of ‘great’. What makes him great?
The philosophers give the answer. They envisaged a leader who practiced
humility – being neither assertive nor talkative yet strong and capable.
That is the spirit of a great man. John Ruskin wrote in his ‘modern
painters’: “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his
humility. I don’t mean by humility dearth of his own power or hesitation in
speaking out his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between
what he can do and say and the rest of the world’s sayings and doings.” The
most important quality of great people is that not only do they know their
business, they are also aware what exactly it is. They not only know how it
is done but also how to do it. That makes them a class of their own apart
from the losers. Every man has an idea of how a job is to be done, but few
know how to do it exactly. Some feign the attitude of not being confident
enough to do it – knowing fully well that they have absolutely no idea how
it is to be done – the mark of the escapist. This attitude of humility leads
to an impression on the observer that “oh yes! Here is a man who knows his
limits.” Actually though the man knows nothing at all.
In the same vein ‘the great’ have a real estimate of their own capacities.
They have no intention of feigning. For them a spade is a spade is a spade –
nothing else. They do not live under the delusion that they are actually the
ones performing the deeds. Instances are many where the ones whom history
has recognised and honoured, have concluded that their achievements are of
infinitesimal value in comparison to what remains unknown and unachieved.
The people of Athens were surprised to hear the oracles verdict that the
wisest man in Athens was Socrates. When questioned the philosopher, he
replied “I know that I know not”. A simple answer which conveys in depth the
attitude of the truly great. In a layman’s perception there is an ocean of
wisdom and experience – but they are aware of the true extent of their
knowledge and intellectual powers. Albert Einstein when questioned on the
future work on his unified theory(QED) replied with an analogy which to this
day acts as a driving force – a source of inspiration for scientific
research. Einstein said he was a little boy playing with the least valuable
pebbles and shells on the shore of a mighty ocean and now he had realised
that the true value – the mighty ocean lay unfathomed and unexplained. This
was said in true spirit – for, after all his research, Einstein’s
dissatisfaction could be assuaged only when he came to accept this fact –
that he was but limited in his intelligence and power, whereas creation had
much more than he could master in a single life time.
It came not as a surprise, not even as a disappointment to a witness – of
the world’s degradation into chaos. Disillusioned law makers – the honest
ones have confessed that laws today are passed such that one may live at the
expense of another. Ayn Rand explains it in her novel “Atlas Shrugged”. This
leads to a deepening of the rift that separates the rich and the poor;
dissatisfaction on one hand and selfishness on the other widen the gorge
till a day will finally dawn when the chasm cannot be bridged – yet there is
hope. There is hope in the heart of man. The Roman Consul Quintus Arrius is
known to have said, “Hate keeps a man alive”. But no – it is not hate but
faith and hope that keep a man alive.
“What the world needs today are men and women of good character”, said
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. They must have the capacity to work and the
humility to serve. Lord Jesus said to his quarrelling disciples “…which is
greater, one who sits at the table or the one who serves? It is not the one
who sits at the table, but I am among you as one who serves.” The emphasis
on humility in leading the world is unmistakable. In every sphere of life
the ability to accept ones mistakes is paramount. The episode that involves
Thomas Edison and the light bulb is well known. After many long hours of
hard work an electric light bulb was manufactured and a young assistant was
given the responsibility of carrying it to the inventor’s study. But on the
way – despite cautions, the bulb slipped from his grasp and shattered
against the floor. There was no admonition from Edison . Wearily the group
returned to the work table and resumed their attempts – another bulb was
made and Edison picked it up. Looking around he spotted the laboratory
assistant and called him – the same boy as before. A gesture of faith and
Faith in others develops when one comes to grips with one own fallacies. And
the fallibility of the human mind and system. Nothing is infallible. Yet
nothing is impossible. It is to make this possible that one must strive to
develop humility. “Greatness lies not in doing extraordinary things but in
doing ordinary things extraordinarily…for the escapist greatness lies in
getting things done by others while himself taking the credit. It is akin to
a system when if a particular project succeeds the person in charge gets the
credit on the other hand if it fails; the men who actually worked on the
project get their knuckles rapped. An escapist stacks the cards before he
plays a game. And for sure he is to win. But when time finally weary of the
game and in a swift moment lays bare the truth – the consequences are
understandably unpalatable. Life will then reveal itself in its most bitter
form to this man.
The world’s dictators are examples for this frame of mind. Hitler blamed his
losses on the incompetence of his generals and subordinates. While as a
leader it was expected of him to take the blame for the losses. The
embezzlers, forgers and all other men of their like make us of the façade of
silence and meekness to hide their nefarious activities. The country – India
today has been rocked by the scandals. Not merely their proportion but also
their number. There were no scapegoats this time but still the accused are
not reprimanded seriously. Why such incompetence? It is said vice does not
roam alone; it always has half a dozen of its sisters along with itself.
When assailed by such a predicament as this what does the country do – sit
silent? Live in the false assumption that everything will one day turn out
fine? Malcom Forbes said, “When things are bad, we take comfort in the
thought that they could be worse – and when they are, we’ll find hope in the
thought that things are so bad that they have to get better.” Whether the
statement was made with sarcasm or in true spirit of optimism is uncertain
but for certainty it applies here, in this context. Such decadence in
temperament will add to further downfall of the global infrastructure.
True men are needed, men of valour and courage. People who dare to think and
speak out their thoughts. Open minded people are those who have the broad
mind to accept a view yet possess the discrimination to judge the right from
wrong. Draw a line where it is to be drawn and not hesitate to take a heavy
decision. Such people can exist in this world. They do, and still remain
unseen and unheard. This is their true hall mark. Silent service; humble
workers for the betterment of humanity. It is said, “an activist is not the
man who complains that the river is dirty, an activist is the man who cleans
it up.” Merely complaining and letting the issue rest at that is escapism.
Taking up the cause, working for it and succeeding is genuine concern.
Greatness lies in being able to place oneself in the others shoes. To be
able to look at an issue from all possible stand points and then come to a
conclusion. John Stewart Mill says “There is always hope when people are
forced to listen to both sides of an argument”. Fairness and justice are
sought by people today. But who are the ones to hand them their true claim?
People will trust only those individuals who are able to bring themselves
down to the level of the people. General Montgomery made it a point to know
the names of all his officers – this endeared him to all of them and he was
called ‘Monty’. General Slim who had the heart to send a private home since
his mother was sick and dying won the hearts of all his men and they called
him Uncle Bill. To be able to communicate on par with others requires
humility. This is what people expect when they speak to a superior. Bosses
are never liked leaders are; because a leader leads, but a boss merely show
the way and follows behind the group. In fact life must be lived so that one
may have no need to hide ones diary. An escapist may succeed, but he shall
inevitably fall victim to his own ways of lies and deceit. The truly humble
and tolerant man shall live not merely in the pages of history but in the
hearts of men. In the eyes of generations to come, as an ideal, an example,
a vindication to the fact that humility is indeed a hallmark of the great.
History shall – yet, in no way be partial; for it shall record the life of
even the coward. The escapist – the con man. The man unwilling to face his
own faults. The man who made virtue a front to cover his own deficiencies.
The man who used the precepts and tenets of life as stepping stones to his
own shadowy success. Yes! History shall also lay bare his story – it shall
record too that ‘humility’ has been and is, a façade for the escapist.
“Beware” it cautions, “humility is the hall mark of the great while being
the false one of the escapist.”
Jai Sai Ram.
With Love and Regards,