Gupta, Lewis on ambition and pride

Stimulated by Craig Hill’s Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2016),  Nijay Gupta provides some interesting excerpts and reflections. He comments, in part,

I have learned that I cannot control what other people think of me. I need to be driven by what I think is right, keep my pride in check, have friends and colleagues who can graciously call me out if I err, and pass on generosity to those who are struggling just as others have lifted me up. I think we will be held back from doing all that we are called to do if we are overly occupied with how our work “looks” to others. I try to believe that if we commit ourselves to quality (and not just quantity), we should not be embarrassed with our work and productivity.

This reflection is substantially similar to C. S. Lewis’s thoughts that

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.’ The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. (Mere Christianity, 125–26, 128)

For the balance of Nijay’s reflections, see his original post.

On Academic Humility

Septem artes liberales from "Hortus delic...
Image via Wikipedia

James Garland has an insightful article, “The Value of Humility in Academe (No Kidding)” at the Chronicle of Higher Education. In part, Garland comments:

The seminal moment [in encouraging my own academic hubris] came . . . when, having stumbled out of an impossibly difficult physics exam, I noticed a wall of portraits of former Princeton physics majors who had won Nobel Prizes. Nothing like a course in quantum mechanics to bring one down to earth.

Until that point, I had never really appreciated what a liberal education is all about. An essayist in The Chronicle has put it this way: “A liberal-arts education . . . is about the recognition, ultimately, of how little one really knows, or can know. A liberal-arts education, most of all, fights unmerited pride by asking students to recognize the smallness of their ambitions in the context of human history . . . .”

Humility isn’t a very fashionable topic in academe. Sure, we all know that pride goeth before a fall, but that means not gloating over trouncing the other team, and not lording it over a colleague because you got the promotion and she didn’t. Besides, preaching humility is the sort of moralizing done by, well, preachers, and not by college professors.

But here the preachers have got it right, and we should listen. True enough, we academics need to empower our students, inspire them to greater heights, engage their passions, and so forth, and obviously we shouldn’t go around gratuitously popping their balloons.

However, unless our students temper their dreams with realism, they will never achieve them. Humility is an important educational goal because it is the bedrock of a liberal education. It is the quality that keeps us from overvaluing our own opinions and discounting the opinions of those who know more than we do. . . .

Next time we sound off on a topic we know little about, or cloak ourselves in moral certainty, or voice unsupported assertions, or jump to unstudied conclusions, or stake out doctrinaire positions on complex issues, we should know that we’re setting a bad example for our students.

Even if we have tenure—especially if we have tenure—we need always to keep in mind that there is no easy path up the mountain. And, like that allegedly famous guy who kept pushing the big rock only to have it roll back again, we should know the mountain’s summit will always be out of reach.

For the full article, see here.