[After a number of interesting conversations today about ideas related to this, I had to delve into this area again, if only to recall some aspects that I have previously considered, and begin adding new ones ...]
The moment we find ourselves to be humble, we are not humble.
There is no way around this, really. It’s one concept that I can confidently claim as a “Truth” without any doubt. It is obviously better to be doing good and patting oneself on the back than not doing good at all. But there is a genuine loss that occurs when one forgets to put the self at the end of the receiving line for reward, recognition, that “I’ve done well” feeling. It’s only human and understandable (and arguably right sometimes) to feel a sense of achievement from the act(s) of helping others. But there is a key turning point in the process in which many people suddenly become too focused on the “self” as the giver/administrator of _______ (even simply compassion, empathy) — and almost inevitably, genuine motivation is removed from the scenario.
In college, I noticed a number of situations in which people would utilize social media in particular to express their deep concern and compassion for others — people who I know they were not quite affiliated with — but even if they had been close friends, there was always something about the publicity of it; the way that one could sense their own confidence in their personal values and ability to express empathy, that was a little off, a little troubling. [These instances are, of course, on a smaller scale. What happens when we undertake an enormous project and this same self-righteous monster rears its head?]
This idea of continuously expressing our moral inclinations or tendency to care for others is perhaps a result, partly, of our modern cultural need to feel known. I’d argue that many in my generation in particular are discomforted by the idea of being entirely anonymous — not after numerous social profiles have enabled or ensured that at least someone will know what we are up to, what we look like these days, what type of people or ideas we are currently associating ourselves with. These are powerful tools for good, I admit, and of course I use these social methods as much as the next person, but like any variable that is suddenly introduced to an environment, there are often possible repercussions that can be analyzed. I wonder if this ability to be known is driving a new determination or simply, a new concern — for people to prove that they are “good” in some way or other. This idea of good is intentionally vague; clearly, people have vastly different concepts of what they would like to perpetuate about themselves and deem “good.” I know many people in my own extended network, however, who identify or associate positivity in image with charity, non-profit, etc. It’s the most obvious, right? The mentality that follows seems to, rather simply, go something like this: “You work for a charity/volunteer? You must be so good.” Or worse, “I volunteer/work for a non-profit/etc., I am so good.”
What do we do when we have turned a corner and entered into this strange territory? What if our work that we set out to do was once done in the name of anonymity, done simply because it was right — and now we have allowed the tempting, parasitic components of pride and self-righteousness enter into our work?
For me, the idea of driving out the self and forcing it to “last-place” — or simply, losing the self (and allowing the present to seep in too), seems the best route … but it is one thing to say this, and a vastly different thing to do it.
Humbleness — that ideal to constantly remind oneself of and work towards…while constantly staying one step behind (for our own “good”).