Presidents Day: A Reflection on Humility

One of the most damaging trends in recent history is the tendency to select dazzling, celebrity leaders.

Jim Collins, Good to Great

In his compelling book exploring the attributes of companies that made the jump “from good to great,” Jim Collins notes the profound impact of leadership. Great companies are led by Level 5 leaders. These leaders are “resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions,” but they “attribute success to factors other than themselves.” In contrast, Level 4 leader’s work “will always be first and foremost about what they get – fame, fortune, adulation, power, whatever – not what they build, create and contribute.”

It is tempting to reflect upon the pre and post Super Bowl performances of the brash young quarterback who took the field with a Superman logo upon his chest; in stark contrast to the humility of his veteran opponent. On another, more important front, one wonders, “What kind of a leadership will our presidential hopefuls provide?” Charlotte Mason reminds us of the necessity of humility.

For humility is absolute, not relative. It is by no means a taking of our place among our fellows according to a given scale, some being above us by many grades and others as far below. There is no reference to above or below in the humble soul, which is equally humble before an infant, a primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince... Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children)

Fondly do we consider the two presidents whom we honor today. As young men, both were brash (perhaps not so unlike our young quarterback). But they allowed life to season them, and being humbled, they became humble. And, by the end, worthy of admiration. Consider their words:

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest. (George Washington, Farewell Address)

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address)

 

 

"George Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze