I share a quote today from English author James M. Barrie, best known to many of us as the creator of Peter Pan.
“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
This briefest of statements provides me with plenty to think about. In the same way that it’s easier for me to bring to mind the words I missed on spelling tests instead of the words that gave me no trouble,* when I think about the times that life was trying to teach me humility, the first pictures that form are of the failures.
I remember having an argument with a little boy at the bus stop in first or second grade (maybe his name was Mark Whitman? I think he was British). At issue was the German word for Germany. When this little boy tried to tell me that Deutschland was the correct term, I disagreed.
After all, my parents had a little yellow English-German dictionary with the words Deutsch-Englisch on the front. I was a six-year-old American girl with a single data point, but to me it seemed that the truth was right there (of course it would be Deutsch!) in blue letters on yellow vinyl.
The cringiest part of this story is that at some point I tumbled to my mistake, but I don’t think I did anything about it. I didn’t go back to that little boy and apologize, or tell him I had realized he had been right all along.
Now, it’s at least possible that I didn’t recognize I was wrong until much later, at a time when my access to Mark Whitman was past. But maybe I realized it the next day, and stood by him at the bus stop as if I’d never asserted knowledge I did not possess.
If I were to comb through memories that don’t reach quite as far back as that first-grade bus stop, I’m sure I could come up with other examples. There’s a strong possibility that if I were to look closely enough, most of the arguments I’ve had with El Guapo since we got married have been part of this long lesson in humility, and would furnish evidence that I’m proving to be a remedial student.
Future experiences will no doubt provide me with many more problem sets and practice sessions on the topic. And I suspect that getting better at humility is probably one of the most effective strategies available to me for making life more pleasant. It would certainly cut down on the time I spend feeling defensive. Maybe it would even eliminate it. That’s an outcome worth working for!
Are there any chapters in this long lesson on humility that you can share?
*In 11th grade English I messed up on chameleon, for instance. Pronunciation was the primary issue—when the teacher said the word, I didn’t even recognize it as one I was supposed to know. It was probably one of those cases where I’d been reading the word for years and hearing it one way in my head, before ever hearing the way it was supposed to be pronounced. I think I had been hearing it with a “ch” like champagne, and so hearing a word that began “come-eel” got me precisely nowhere.
[Images: chestofbooks.com, newsouthbooks.com.au]