At the conclusion of Sunday worship it is common for the pastor to stand at the door and greet the participants. Occasionally one will offer appreciative remarks on the sermon. One Sunday a woman said that my sermon was one of the best she had ever heard. Trying to appear humble, I pointed heavenward and indicated that this is where the credit should be directed. Her reply: “I didn’t say it was that good!”
Ah, the blessing of being humbled. The benefit of being reminded that keeping the ego in check is a healthy enterprise. And the need for reminders is because of the natural leaning toward self-interest, self-credit, self-glory. Part of the human DNA structure seems to be a focus on the self . . . first and foremost.
This is not to say that one should have no concern for self. A healthy society is one composed of healthy individuals who are well-kept and well-adjusted. Key word: SOCIETY. The human community is just that, a community. John Donne’s 17th century book title holds true: No Man Is an Island. So while an appropriate amount of self-interest and self-appreciation is well and good, problems arise when these become overinflated to the detriment of society.
Everyone has to share the planet with everyone else. An acute awareness of that, from the global level to the local neighborhood, should lead to an attitude of “ours” vs “mine.” When the neighborhood or country or planet prospers, the individual prospers. When a few gain power and control that feeds self-interest, many suffer.
Healthy humility acknowledges that we’re all in this together. Put simply, I have no right to exploit others in order to feed my personal desires if doing so means others will have less than enough. This is a long and complicated discussion, but the foundational concern is for others as well as for oneself.
What leads individuals to overcome the me-myself-and-I mindset . . . to care about others as well as oneself? Different things work for different people, but societies need to hold up the principle and be organized with the concept in mind. The old Three Musketeers rallying call encapsulates it: “All for one and one for all.” Would that we could appreciate and apply this attitude toward the world community.