Humility as the Set-Aside Complement to Forgiving
The point is to show that if we are to forgive well, we have to set aside our pride, our sense of self-righteousness, and realize that the one(s) who hurt us share a common humanity with us. We all have inherent or built-in worth. When we are humble, following Aristotle’s analysis of all moral virtues, we do not move toward the extremes of seeing ourselves as moral worms or as better than others because we are engaging in the practice of such an exalted virtue as humility.
Recently, I made a new friend, Kari Konkola, who holds a doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He specializes in the history of religion. As I discussed my interest in forgiveness, he responded that it would be hard to forgive if excessive pride is getting in the way. With a dominance of pride, self-righteous anger can push away the motivation to forgive.
Dr. Konkola further instructed me that humility, as a complement to forgiveness, was a central moral virtue in the Medieval period. The point during these Middle Ages was to realize that each of us is no better than others precisely because we all fall short of moral perfection. He went on to say that there has been a trend since the Medieval period in which humility as a valued moral virtue is in decline. He sees humility as the ignored moral virtue in the modern West.
So, with this challenge in mind, that humility is in decline, I decided to do a little psychological experiment. I wrote an essay centered on humility on the Psychology Today website, where I have been blogging since September, 2017. I posted the essay entitled, “Humility: What Can It Do for You” on April 27, 2020. That was over three weeks ago and the number of views for this essay as of this writing on May 20 is 477. In contrast, I posted an essay on the nine purposes of forgiveness less than a week ago and already the number of views is 2,027. It is typical to see between 5,000 and 10,000 views for some of these essays focused on forgiveness, and yet the one on humility is languishing, as Dr. Konkola may have predicted.
Humility seems to be the set-aside moral virtue. If so, then how can people forgive deeply if humility does not accompany the forgiving? How will people even gravitate toward forgiving if pride blocks all consideration of forgiving?
What has happened in the West that has led to either a disinterest in humility or even an aversion to it? Who had it right, those in the Medieval period or the modern West? I’m not sure of the precise answers here, but I am convinced that we somehow have managed to de-value an important moral virtue, one that might need to team with forgiveness if forgiving others is to be achieved well.