Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge. They both had the humility and confidence to become heroes. Painting: John Ward Dunsmore (PD), via Wikipedia.org.
In the history of this world, the most admired individuals have been the heroes. What sets them apart? How are they so special? Some of the characteristics are selflessness, sacrifice, and humble confidence. These are good things to emulate, but they’re not easy. Personally, I have too much ego. Oh, well.
When I first thought of the term, “humble confidence,” it seemed an oxymoron—a self-contradictory term. I had wanted an expression to describe a condition I had experienced and that is the first thing that popped into my mind. It took me a moment, but any discomfort I had for the term soon evaporated.
Defining Humble Confidence
Buddhist monk meditating with humble confidence. Phra Ajan Jerapunyo, Abbot of Watkungtaphao. Photo by Tevaprapas Makklay (CC BY 3.0), via Wikipedia.org.
“Humble,” per the American Heritage Dictionary means,
- Having or showing feelings of humility rather than of pride; aware of one’s shortcomings; modest; meek.
- Showing deferential respect.
- Lacking high station; lowly; unpretentious.
“Humility,” in the same dictionary means,
- The quality or condition of being humble; lack of pride; modesty.
- Usually plural. An act of modesty, submission, or self-abasement.
Don’t you just love the circular reference between definitions (each definition using the other word to define itself)?
Statue of Jesus Christ, a divine hero and the epitome of humble confidence. Photo by Sean Vivek Crasto (PD), via Wikipedia.org.
I can see a hero being modest, perhaps meek (and perhaps not), and showing deferential respect to others. “Lacking high station,” doesn’t work for me. A king can be a hero if he doesn’t let his station go to his head. If he acts as if his kingship is a responsibility, and perhaps acts as if he is a lowly servant of his people, then a king could easily be a champion to his people. “Lack of pride” and “modesty” are compatible with my idea of a hero. So is “submission.” “Self-abasement” also works for me, except when it means “self-humiliation.”
In the dictionary’s comparison of several words (humble, meek, lowly, modest, reserved, retiring and self-conscious), it says that, “meek describes one who is patient, undemonstrative, and submissive or timid.” I can’t see a hero being overly timid, especially about taking responsibility for something that needs to be done.
Examples of Humble Confidence
Engraving by Hablot K. Browne for Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.” A story of heroism.
In Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton takes the place of his look-alike, Darnay, under the guillotine. The story ends with Carton’s last thoughts, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” Perhaps not many of us would do such a thing—perform such self-sacrifice for another. Carton’s actions provoke from the reader either bewilderment or deep admiration. His was an act of profound heroism.
Jesus of Nazareth told his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” This is the ultimate self-sacrifice, and that is exactly what Jesus did when he knowingly walked into his own crucifixion.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist family, but somehow I had a hard time with Christianity. Some parts seemed pretty cool when I was a youngster. The “holier than thou” and “hell-fire and damnation,” didn’t go over too well with me. Sorry, granddad (he was a Southern Baptist minister and missionary to Nigeria, Africa). My father also seemed to chafe under orthodox Christianity. He might read the Bible one week, but then might read about the reincarnation of a yoga, the next. In fact, he seemed to read more Eastern mysticism and New Age literature than traditional, religious works. For me, despite an aversion to the Christian dogma, the miracles and the self-sacrifice were things that were immediately admirable.
Certainly, Jesus’ sacrifice seemed heroic to me. Going around calling himself the “son of God” did not seem too humble, though. Yet, I had much more to learn about this.
Clarifying the Humility
Rock Creek Park near Washington, DC, where one former fellow student committed suicide (the opposite of humble confidence). Photo by dbking (CC BY 2.0), via Wikipedia.org.
Earlier I said that “self-abasement” doesn’t seem what a hero would do if this means, “self-humiliation.” Anyone who goes around in public beating themselves up seems more like a “loser” to me—someone not garnering much respect, because they’re not giving themselves any respect. To be sure, there are similarities in the look of humility and self-humiliation, but that’s only superficial. There’s a very big difference. It’s all in the attitude. Humility is about less ego—less of the self. Self-humiliation is all too frequently a self-indulgence. The most extreme example of this is suicide.
Suicide, in my opinion, is one of the most selfish acts one can do. In high school, my senior year English teacher seemed to admire those who committed suicide. He talked about the subject on numerous occasions. I attempted to disabuse him of this, but my efforts failed. I was particularly concerned about a fellow student—a lovely young woman who always seemed to have running mascara and red eyes. Six years later, I read that the young woman jumped off a bridge in Rock Creek Park, near Washington, D.C. My heart aches even now at the thought of it. And there is also anger at my English teacher for having thought that suicide was so wonderful and trendy. Finally, there is anger at her for having given in to the demons.
If she had been feeling pain, sticking in there would obviously have been a heroic thing to do. Committing suicide in the face of such anguish is a coward’s act, and just as selfish as any cowardly thing. That may seem harsh or unsympathetic (sympathy is overrated, but empathy is golden). The ability to act with courage in the face of such distress is a sign of confidence. Any hero needs this in order to move past things like fear and discomfort.
A self-humiliating person who throws their self in harm’s way, and saves someone else, may be doing it for all the wrong reasons. The motivation may be one of suicide rather than self-sacrifice. Their confidence or lack thereof would play a major part in their decision.
The Other Half of Humble Confidence
“Confidence” is defined, “1. Trust in a person or thing. 4. A feeling of assurance or certainty, especially concerning oneself.” In the adjacent discussion of synonyms, the dictionary says, “self-confidence, self-possession, and self-reliance all imply consciousness of one’s own powers and abilities. Self-confidence stresses trust in one’s own self-sufficiency.” A hero needs at least a modest amount of competence. Incompetence is not very heroic, though a person who overcomes initial failure to win the day can also seem every bit the hero. With competence comes confidence and vice versa.
Someone with humble confidence may feel self-sufficient for some task, but is averse to bragging about it. All too often, I fail there. Bragging is second nature to me. Again, oh well! Perhaps the expectation of the hero is that everyone can do such things, just as Jesus said that anyone can do the miracles he did and even greater things. All one needed was the faith to do them.
Faith is Beyond Belief
Monks line up at Phutthamonthon Buddha. Their “paramitas” are all about humble confidence. Photo: Tevaprapas Makklay (CC BY-SA 2.5), via Wikipedia.org.
“Faith” and “belief” have been used interchangeably, but I propose defining them as distinctly separate states of being—also, attitudes. “Belief,” as I see it, is a level of confidence with varying degrees of doubt. This could be anywhere from zero confidence right up to, but not including, perfect confidence. I reserve that slot—100% confidence—for my definition of “faith.” This new “faith” is discontinuous in nature. It is separate from the continuity of various grades of “belief.” This new “faith” is like the Buddhist “one hand clapping”—a one-sided coin—that contains no hint or possibility of doubt. The Buddhist paramitas (or “perfections”) also speak of this “discontinuous” state. Paramita generosity, wisdom and compassion are perfectly what they are with no hint of selfishness, stupidity or indifference, respectively. They are the godly ideal.
When one exercises confident humility, one suppresses or eliminates the continuity-based ego self. All that is left is the discontinuity-based true self—the immortal.
When Genesis says that God created man in his own image, this provokes many images—all of them indistinct. So, what does this mean?
When, a chapter later, Genesis says that God created man, again, what gives? This time, man is created from the dust of the ground.
The image of God is one that is spiritual in nature. God is a spiritual being with the power of creation. That makes his children spiritual beings with the power of creation. Okay, but what about this “dust of the ground” stuff? Would that be Homo sapiens? Would the sons of God be immortal, spiritual beings clothed in Homo sapiens flesh? Arguably, the dual nature of man is one of the most important subjects of the Bible. In fact, it is an important theme in most, if not all, religions.
It’s hard to talk about some of the experiences I’ve had without sounding a bit like the braggart. Well, tough! The message is too important.
When I experienced humble confidence, one of the most vivid things I noticed was a complete lack of the ego self. As I said, ego is continuity-based. It is a cog in the machine of physical reality, just like emotions, the clothes you wear, and the body you think of as “you.” They are all subject to the laws of physical reality. They are subject to vectors of force. They are vulnerable.
Washington and men on the way to Valley Forge. I’m no Washington, but I can understand his humble confidence. Painting: William Trego (PD), via Wikipedia.org.
My Own Personal Experience with Humble Confidence
In 1977, while living in Los Angeles, I experienced a major miracle. More accurately, I created one. You see, I had been creating minor miracles for four years. Most of those acts of primordial “magic” were done while largely asleep, spiritually. I had discovered the mechanics of creation and had used them on numerous occasions. Invariably, the results were instantaneous. Only I would know that, because only I would know the moment each creation had been allowed into physical reality (unless there happened to be any mind readers around).
So, what was this major miracle? Frustrated in rush-hour traffic, one smoggy, late afternoon, I realized that I had been creating my own frustration.
Heads up, everyone! Just a friendly reminder—you are fully responsible for what happens in your life. That’s a big one-zero-zero percent (100%)! Don’t quibble with it. Don’t justify or try to squirm out of it. There is no insanity plea or “twinkie” defense. And don’t “blame” it on karma. You create your own karma. Karma is there for a reason—to help you wake up, spiritually. But the source of that creation is you.
Upon realizing my own culpability in creating my frustration (and creating the things toward which my frustration was directed), my “hurry” no longer mattered. Traffic could do whatever it wanted to do. I was no longer vulnerable to it.
The next moment, I pictured what would be a more desirable situation—wide open spaces and smooth sailing all the way to my destination. The creation was easy. (And each of us is creating constantly throughout our lives. As children of God, it is our nature to create. The only thing is, we are rarely impressed, because our creation is usually a maintenance of the status quo—reality.) Allowing that creation into the time stream, I had perfect confidence of the result. With ego completely missing, my humility was profound. The next moment, the car directly in front of me moved into the already crowded lane to the right. Left and right, cars moved into those lanes, leaving the lane in front of me entirely empty. Within moments, the dream was realized.
Over two thousand cars and their drivers participated in that realization. It wasn’t for me—the “me” called Rodney Carl Martin, Jr. I could have cared less about getting to my destination sooner. My frustration had vanished. The only important thing to me right then (and ever more, now) was that of awakening the god within.
Calling myself a son of God—or a “baby god”—seems to have ego written all over it. And, yes, ego tries to take over that bit of apparent puffery. Part of the difficulty is putting ego behind one’s self—one’s true, immortal self. Returning to humility, again and again, is getting easier. I have tasted perfect confidence, yet, at times, it seems as elusive as a dream. And yet, I continue to dream.
What examples do you have from your own life of “humble confidence?”
Originally published as “Humble Confidence,” 2008:0919–13:32, and as ” Stuck with Making Life Work? Try This,” 2011:1115–07:07 at blog.ancientsuns.com