Friday, June 22, 2007

Blessed Are The Simple

This past week I attended the funeral of my 92-year-old aunt. By all accounts, Aunt Maxine was a simple person. She became a mother during the years of the Depression, raised four kids through WWII. Throughout the final proceedings marking her life and death, the one word I kept thinking about was unpretentious.

I work in country where people are forever trying to project an image of their importance. Impression is so pervasive in India that one of the major themes in my training is the importance of status and role within society. Of course pretentiousness is a global malady that infects people in all walks of life, be they truck driver, padre, educator or stay-at-home moms. There is a tension in all of us, I would think, to try and project an aura that we really are quite successful, smart, beautiful or influential. As I listened to Aunt Maxine’s grandchildren, tell stories about the plain woman lying in the coffin, their words were like a refreshing shower washing off the veneer of every pretentious person in the room.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek (humble), for they will inherit the earth.” That’s a tough philosophy to follow in a market economy. Everyone’s a salesman and the rules of today’s game are, to him or her, who projects the best image goes the spoils. If you are not the squeaky and annoying wheel, you will not get the oil. Those out there in front are those who make the noise, dress for success and have the whitest teeth. Humility? Forget about it. Meekness is weakness and a sure sign that you have no self-confidence.

Humility is not and endorsement for being stupid, dirty or lazy. I have met idiots who were as proud of their lack of education as pompous PhD’s are of their degrees. I have been around a group of morons who duke-it-out on who could out dummy the other in word and deed. For a person to be proud of their lack of accomplishments in life is not humility, it’s pretentious ignorance.

The balancing act of striving for excellence, being the best one can be in their station in life without projecting the air of self-importance is not easily achieved. I suppose the best way to fight pretentiousness is to resist the urge to compete. But can I get to the front of the line without elbowing my way or standing on my box of accomplishments and shouting, “Look at me!”? The line between meekness and self-importance is indeed fine. Perhaps the answer is found in the ancient writing of Solomon who advised, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” In Aunt Maxine’s case, it was her family who rose up and called her blessed.