There was a great article in the New York Times the other day, with an eye-catching title:
“A Humble Pope, Challenging The World.”
The Times ran this teaser and explanatory line under the title:
“Francis, the first Latin American pope, has drawn from his life in Argentina to try to create a humbler papacy, albeit one with lofty ambition.”
It’s not often that we see humility and lofty ambition mentioned together. And that’s too bad, because they’re perfect partners. In fact, lofty ambition is closely connected with a fundamental quality that is, together with humility, crucial for great leadership. The best explanation I know of has come from the mouth of a character in my new book, The Oasis Within. He’s seventy years old. His name is Ali. And he’s just said something about humility and nobility to his thirteen-year-old nephew Walid, as they sit and talk under the stars in the vast desert of western Egypt. The year is 1934. The boy wants to understand what nobility and humility really are. Ali explains it all better than I can, so let me quote this short passage. Ali speaks.
“Nobility is a sense of your own greatness, and the true greatness of what you rightly value, along with the importance of what you’re doing in this world. Nobility comes from inside you. It arises in your soul. It’s an attitude and a sensibility that you bring to everything you do, every action, by caring about little things, knowing they’re actually big, and attempting big things, knowing that they’re never bigger than your calling, your quest, and the adventure for which you’re here.”
“That’s a good answer.”
“So: What about humility?” The boy was entranced by these ideas and suddenly found himself wanting to understand more.
“Humility is a sense of our smallness in the vast sweep of things, and a recognition of the greatness in other people, along with a realization that we need each other in order to accomplish our best dreams. Absolutely anyone and anything can teach us, as I’m teaching you on this marvelous night.”
“I see. This makes sense to me. But it’s also strange. I’m big and I’m small.”
“Yes. And so are we all. Each of us is of inestimable importance. None of us owns all the wisdom and virtue of the world. You need others. And they need you. Humility recognizes our wonderful limits. Nobility embraces what is also ours and is limitless.” This was a lot for Walid to take in all at once. But he could feel that these words resonated with truth.
The old man continued. “Humility means being open to learn from everyone and everything that crosses our path. The camel can teach us. The storm can teach us. The viper can teach us. Our mistakes can teach us. The stars can, too. If you’re humbly open to learning and growing, then you can become everything you’re meant to be, in the fullness of your inner nobility. In addition, a proper humility allows you to serve others eagerly and well, and there is nothing nobler than that.”
“So, nobility and humility go together.”
“They’re meant to walk arm-in-arm. But, unfortunately, each of these qualities often wanders along without its intended mate. When they work together, there’s magic, and there’s tremendous power for good. Combined, they lead to extraordinary things.”
This was important for the boy to grasp well. The old man thought for a moment, and then continued. “The greatest kings and leaders on earth are both noble and humble. One who is noble and not humble is presumptuous and arrogant. One who is humble and not noble is hesitant and lost, and never in possession of his full power. To be the great regent you’re here to become, you must embrace both these qualities, my friend. Nobility and humility together form the path of true greatness.”
This is important for us all to remember as a new presidential political season gets underway. It’s not just the Pope who benefits from blending these two great qualities. Any leader should embody them, and keep them in proper balance.
There's a lot more on this topic and related issues in the new book. If you have a chance to read it soon, I hope that it speaks to you, and that you will enjoy it deeply. Please let me know what you think. It always helps me as a philosopher to hear the perspectives of other thoughtful people.
For more, go to www.TheOasisWithin.com.