From the London Evening Standard yesterday:
Dr Rowan Williams made a speech in favour of humility at Church House last night, while introducing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for this year, Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility, by Canon Stephen Cherry.
Why do Oscar-winning actors and victorious politicians always say they feel humble, I ask, when they mean the opposite? “I do wonder,” said Dr Williams. “I don’t want to be cynical.”
Dr Cherry, who has a PhD in the theology and practice of forgiveness, explains how humility and pride are related. “It’s rhetorical humility,” he said. “Of course they feel proud, but they know pride is not acceptable. They are saying ‘I’m still one of you’.”
Part of the difficulty experienced by those who have achieved something amazing is that we have lost – if we ever had – the art of legitimate pride. If you work hard at something, put your all into it, and succeed in making or doing something well, there is nothing wrong with feeling proud of your achievement.
The problem comes when you fail to acknowledge (to yourself) the part played by others. This is where actors and politicians find themselves in difficulty. Would Colin Firth have won ‘best actor’ if David Seidler hadn’t written a script for a film called ‘The King’s Speech’? Would he have if the Direction had been poor, the sets mediocre or his co-stars lack-lustre?
It is right that victory speeches acknowledge the debt owed to so many people behind the scenes, including ‘my mother, who always believed in me and pushed me to do my best’. It is also right that Christians acknowledge their thankfulness to God for his direction, inspiration and sustaining power. But there’s nothing wrong with simply saying ‘thank you’ when someone congratulates you on a job well done.