Humility requires that we see ourselves accurately. We neither value ourselves too low or too high. Humility often encourages us to challenge the forces around us make us feel superior and those that make us feel inferior. Humility is not self-deprecating but an act of emphasizing our own self-worth and dignity, while often calling us to examine and rework poor choices. We desire humility in our companions, friends and neighbors but as a country and as an institution do, we ever seek to be humble? (Do we seek to elect leaders and inform policies that promote humility?) Institutional humility, in this context, means that institutions, like the government, corporations, universities, etc. do not seek total superiority and perfection but are capable of examining their actions and influence in this world and make amends for poor results. Institutional humility requires a group of people to strive to see themselves accurately.
An institution I care deeply about is the United States of America. The U.S. is an incredibly blessed and exceptional country and the government was set up with great care and virtue. From the time the first pilgrims found sanctuary in the U.S. this country was set apart to be a leader and a refuge for this world. The foundation of this country, and institution, is built upon freedom of speech, religion, market and love of your fellow man. There are few other places in this world where people can find so much abundance and safety, so it is very easy to love and adore the U.S. and I am grateful and humbled to be part of this country. Our first president, President George Washington, set a noble example for America when, “In his farewell address, Washington utilized his language to humanize himself as a reminder that he is flawed and vulnerable like everyone else, yet devoted to building a nation future generation could thrive in.” He told the country, that had come to idolize him that if they wanted his advice or his words anymore that they would find them “Under his own fig and vine” meaning he was giving up the glories and responsibility of the office to help our country move forward. This was a great act of humility. This act and the way our government is set up has given our country an enormous amount of humility in power and balances of power. However, there are still ways for us to improve and examine the pride we have in a human institution.
The United States, as an institution, is powerfully known as a refuge for those in need and a place of industry and innovation for many who reside here. This history started, roughly, the 16th and 17th century, when the native people of this land came in contact with explorers from far off countries. As these foreign explorers began to make this land their home and colonize and build upon it the native people, the Native Americans, responded in a variety of ways. Some cooperated with the newcomers and some revolted. Tragically, many were killed in all during this beginning period and many more were killed afterwards. It’s hard to point fingers, as a white woman who heritage is found in Denmark and Whales, because my family sought a place of religious freedom and industry. However, it is, in my humble opinion, time to acknowledge what happened in the beginning and do what we can to repair the damage. Speaking as a Christian, even though the water is murky on how far we can go to right wrongs down by previous generations, this is the time to start trying to do the right.
As a country, we have tried to shy away from the many times and ways the Native Americans have been physically, culturally and economically short changed by their colonizers. Evidence of these difficult dealings are in the reservation system as it still stands. The U.S. government took possession of all the land and then gave the native people small parts of land, often times in harsh terrains like South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Oglalla Sioux and Wyoming’s Wind River, to keep them happy and contained.
There are differing opinions in our country, ranging from whether an apology to the Native American people is necessary or if it is not enough. Every opinion has its place in this country, however, is there a place for recognizing the facts of how the Native people have been treated over the last three centuries? And is there a place for recognizing our wrong doings?
Moving away from past errors, another way to think about America’s need for institutional humility is through looking at the mindset of our President, President Donald Trump. Politics aside, and I do agree with some of his politics, this president has a very brash and unapologetic way of leading this country. Undoubtedly, there are times for a commander and chief to take control and to also stand their ground about specific actions. However, President Trump has not shown throughout the last three years that he is rarely capable of public humility, or institutional humility. And he has shown on numerous occasions that when he is faced with opposing views, rather than talking and acting as an equal he will talk and act as a superior and even at times as an all-knowing man. Calling opposing news, “fake news” and lashing out at opponents with gossip and rude names, President Trump often assumes superiority and pride in place of humility. Again, humility does not insinuate weakness or self-hatred, however, it does require seeing others as being important and as valuable as yourself. But he is not a cause of this trend in America of unfettered arrogance but more he is a symptom on the larger issue. The larger issue being that we are growing more and more incapable of looking to our neighbor over our own self interests. More incapable of apologizing when we are wrong. And more and more incapable of acting in humility.
It should not be overlooked that President Trump has many good leadership qualities! He is a tremendous negotiator, confident in his priorities and dauntlessly authoritative. There are many reasons why he was elected to be commander and chief over this beautiful institution of America. But we can also not afford to overlook that he struggles with arrogance and encourages a mindset, “that rewards dogmatic certainty and punishes those who acknowledge the possible limitations of their own point of view.” We elect leaders as defenders and chiefs but also as examples and defenders of our values. If we want to strive for a country that
The last thing I want to ask you to consider when thinking about our need for institutional humility, especially as a nation, is the speed at which we are going in this day and age. We live in a world where every opinion and idea we have can be validated by the internet in a matter of seconds. America is becoming more and more polarized each year because we are becoming more comfortable with being right rather than listening and researching. A major cause of this desire to be right and the speed at which we are living today is the internet, though, “The internet didn't create this polarization, but it does speed it up. That’s partly because the analytics that drive the internet don’t just get us more information; they get us more of the information we want.” We are getting used to feeling something, believing something and then only looking in that direction when there are so many sides to most issues. Where is the danger is looking around us and trying to humbly see what others are offering as oppositional ideas? Can we hold our convictions close while still listening to our neighbors and friends’ opinions?
I believe thoroughly in the words of Tolstoy’s, “If everyone fought for their own convictions, there would be no war.” Democratic institutions, like the U.S. will not function if their citizens do not have convictions. People must find out what they believe and fight for their voice to be heard and often understood. But this does not rule out the need for a space, in our democratic institution, for common ground and empathy. It is crucial that there are safe spaces where we can trade ideas back and forth and also where we can apologize for being wrong or hurtful. Teaching our families, students and peers that institutional humility is not only beautiful but possible is something we should work towards.