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Posts Tagged ‘Humility

The Surprising Benefits of a Quiet Ego

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Photo: Getty Images

If you stroll down the self-help aisle of most bookstores in America, you’ll notice that book after book is about how to be great, look good, and win. All of these promises for self-enhancement can be loud and quite overwhelming. Sometimes I cheekily wonder, why is there no such thing as a quiet self section?

Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that a quiet-self aisle at Barnes & Noble would ever be as popular as the self-help section. But I am concerned about the results of one large survey, which found that the appearance and frequency in published books of the words “humility” and “humbleness” dropped on average 43.33% from 1901 to 2000. It seems we place a great deal less value on these virtues than we once did.

Fans of current self-help literature may scoff at these findings (at worst) or merely find them irrelevant to their goals. But they’d be wrong to be so dismissive. Because here’s the thing: the latest science of well-being shows that transcending, not enhancing, the self is the most powerful and direct pathway to contentment and inner peace.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s good to have a healthy sense of self. But as psychologist Mark Leary has pointed out, while the self can be our greatest resource, it can also be our darkest enemy. On the one hand, the fundamentally human capacities for self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-control are essential for reaching our goals. On the other, the self has a perpetual desire to be seen in a positive light. The self will do anything to disavow itself of responsibility for any negative outcome it might deserve. As one researcher put it, the self engenders “a self-zoo of self-defense mechanisms.”

Which is why I was so excited to find out about new psychological literature on the “quiet ego.” What is so great about a quiet ego is that it is not a silent ego. As Jack Bauer, Heidi Wayment, and Kateryna Sylaska, who are leading the way in this line of research, put it, “The volume of the ego is turned down so that it might listen to others as well as the self in an effort to approach life more humanely and compassionately.” The quiet ego brings others into the self without losing the self.

According to Bauer and Wayment, the quiet ego consists of four interconnected facets: detached awareness, inclusive identity, perspective-taking, and personal growth. These four characteristics all contribute to having a general stance of balance and growth toward the self and others.

The researchers created a test to measure these four facets.

Facet #1: Detached awareness

The statements testing detached awareness include:

  • “I find myself doing things without paying much attention.”
  • “I do jobs or tasks automatically, without being aware of what I’m doing.”
  • “I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.”

Those with a quiet ego score low on these items: they are intensely mindful and aware of their surroundings. They are focused on the immediate moment without judgment or preconceived ideas about how the moment should unfold. This non-defensive attitude toward the present moment is associated with many positive life outcomes.

Facet #2: Inclusive identity

Inclusive identity statements include:

  • “I feel a connection to all living things.”
  • “I feel a connection with strangers.”
  • “I feel a connection to people of other races.”

People whose egos are turned down in volume score higher in this facet. If your identity is inclusive, you’re likely to be cooperative and compassionate toward others rather than only working to help yourself.

Facet #3: Perspective taking

Perspective taking statements include:

  • “Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.”
  • “When I’m upset at someone, I usually try to put myself in his or her shoes for a while.”
  • “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.”

By reflecting on other viewpoints, the quiet ego brings attention outside the self, increasing empathy and compassion.

Facet #4: Personal growth

Finally, personal growth statements include:

  • “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, changing, and growth.”
  • “I think it is important to have new experiences that challenge how you think about yourself and the world.”

Personal growth and detached awareness complement each other nicely: detached awareness is all about the present moment, whereas personal growth is all about contemplating the longer-term implications of the present moment. Both are part of the quiet ego since both are focused on dynamic processes rather than evaluation of the final product.

The researchers found that those with a quiet ego reported being more interested in personal growth and balance and tended to seek growth through competence, autonomy, and positive social relationships. While a quiet ego was positively related to having a higher self-esteem, it was also related to various indicators of self-transcendence, including prosocial attitudes and behaviors.

This is consistent with the idea that a quiet ego balances compassion with self-protection and growth goals. Indeed, a quiet ego is an indication of a healthy self-esteem—one that acknowledges one’s own limitations, doesn’t need to constantly resort to defensiveness whenever the ego is threatened, and yet has a firm sense of self-worth and value.

They also found that a quiet ego was associated with self-compassion, humility, authenticity, spiritual growth, flexible thinking, open-minded thinking, the ability to savor everyday experiences, life satisfaction, resilience, risk-taking, and the feeling that life is meaningful. If we take a multidimensional conceptualization of well-being (which I do), we see that a quiet ego is more conducive to living a full life.

Interestingly, the researchers also found a moderate positive relationship between having a quiet ego and extroversion. This suggests that having a loud voice doesn’t necessarily mean having a loud ego, and having a quiet voice doesn’t automatically lead to a quiet ego. The strength of the relationship leaves plenty of room for people all across the extroversion spectrum—from extroversion to ambiversion to introversion—to turn the dial down on their ego.

Recent research even suggests that a quiet ego can buffer against existential angst. This is important because anxiety over death is a central (although often hidden) motivating force for many human activities—from religion and spirituality to sexuality to the drive for money and social status to many forms of psychopathology. While self-esteem can serve as an existential anxiety buffer, it also has a potential downside: when the ego is threatened, or when attention is brought to undesirable qualities about the self, thoughts of the inevitability of death increase.

Psychologist Pelin Kesebir argues that a much more constructive and healthier way of dealing with death anxiety is through humility. Across five studies, Pelin Kesebir tested the idea that high levels of humility (measured both as a trait and as a state of being) would be associated with lower death anxiety and lower defensiveness in the face of death thoughts. First, she found that high levels of humility and low levels of entitlement were associated with lower levels of death anxiety and anxiety-induced defensiveness. Humility warded off death anxiety more than qualities such as high self-esteem, mindfulness, general virtuousness, and even having a secure attachment style.

As Kesebir notes, “The humble person is probably more aware and accepting of the fact that against a cosmic scale of time and space, every human being is minute.” Finally, she found that memories of pride-invoking moments did not buffer against death anxiety, whereas memories of humility did.

So, there you have it: a quiet ego may have its volume turned down, but it is in fact the most powerful buffer against threats to the ego, including the biggest threat of them all: death.

Perhaps we should start building that quiet-self section of the bookstore after all.

–Scott Barry Kaufman

 

 

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Written by MattAndJojang

May 28, 2018 at 11:33 am

The Folly of Human Conceits

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A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as "Pale Blue Dot."

A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as “Pale Blue Dot.”

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

–Carl Sagan

Written by MattAndJojang

August 5, 2015 at 10:36 am

Nelson Mandela, South African Icon of Peaceful Resistance, Dies

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Nelson Mandela

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and an enduring icon of the struggle against racial oppression, died on Thursday, the government announced, leaving the nation without its moral center at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the country’s leaders.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” President Jacob Zuma said in a televised address on Thursday night, adding that Mr. Mandela had died at 8:50 p.m. local time. “His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him our love.”

Mr Zuma called Mr. Mandela’s death “the moment of our greatest sorrow,” and said that South Africa’s thoughts were now with the former president’s family. “They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free,” he said.

Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason by the white minority government, only to forge a peaceful end to white rule by negotiating with his captors after his release in 1990. He led the African National Congress, long a banned liberation movement, to a resounding electoral victory in 1994, the first fully democratic election in the country’s history.

Mr. Mandela, who was 95, served just one term as South Africa’s president and had not been seen in public since 2010, when the nation hosted the soccer World Cup. But his decades in prison and his insistence on forgiveness over vengeance made him a potent symbol of the struggle to end this country’s brutally codified system of racial domination, and of the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts.

Years after he retreated from public life, his name still resonated as an emblem of his effort to transcend decades of racial division and create what South Africans called a Rainbow Nation.

Yet Mr. Mandela’s death comes during a period of deep unease and painful self-examination for South Africa.

In the past year and a half, the country has faced perhaps its most serious unrest since the end of apartheid, provoked by a wave of wildcat strikes by angry miners, a deadly response on the part of the police, a messy leadership struggle within the A.N.C. and the deepening fissures between South Africa’s rulers and its impoverished masses.

Scandals over corruption involving senior members of the party have fed a broader perception that Mr. Mandela’s near saintly legacy from the years of struggle has been eroded by a more recent scramble for self-enrichment among a newer elite.

After spending decades in penurious exile, many political figures returned to find themselves at the center of a grab for power and money. President Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption before rising to the presidency in 2009, though the charges were dropped on largely technical grounds. He has faced renewed scrutiny in the past year over $27 million spent in renovations to his house in rural Zululand.

Graphic cellphone videos of police officers abusing people they have detained have further fueled anger at a government seen increasingly out of touch with the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Mr. Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999, stepping aside to allow his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, to run and take the reins. Mr. Mandela spent his early retirement years focused on charitable causes for children and later speaking out about AIDS, which has killed millions of Africans, including his son Makgatho, who died in 2005.

Mr. Mandela retreated from public life in 2004 at the age of 85, largely withdrawing to his homes in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Houghton and his ancestral village in the Eastern Cape, Qunu.

~ Lydia Polgreen,  The New York Times

Written by MattAndJojang

December 6, 2013 at 6:44 am

Hubble Telescope’s Ultra Deep Slice of Heaven

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A video that will inspire you to think more deeply about your place in the universe.

Space. Patches of complete black, void of light. We see nothing. And yet, our species peers more deeply and seeks for what it cannot see. Our curiosity is a springboard, a launching pad for that leap of faith into the unknown.

So, what did we do. We committed, and we pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at one of those dark patches in 1996. The result: one of the most important images ever taken. Where we saw nothing, there were galaxies — more than 3,000 of them. And when we looked more deeply, our field of view expanded to more than 100 billion galaxies.

Our vision of ourselves is forever changed now. The unfathomable depth of the universe adds to our sense of awe and wonder. We derive new meaning from the expanding context ushered forth by these Hubble images. The questions about the intersection of science and religion are changing, and the soil is richer and more fertile than ever before for making sense of our place in it all.

~ Trent Gilliss

Written by MattAndJojang

November 3, 2013 at 8:57 am

Pope Benedict XVI’s Humble Courage

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Pope Benedict

Photo: Andrew Medichini/AP

Like scores of fellow Catholics, I was initially unnerved by the pope’s decision to resign. The more I think about it, though, the more sense it makes. At 85, Pope Benedict XVI realized that he simply couldn’t continue to do what’s necessary for the communion of faithful.

A strong administrative steward (butler and bank controversies aside) and a brilliant theologian, Benedict’s fulfillment of duty over the past 8 years has been truly impressive, albeit neither flashy nor duly appreciated. One of Benedict’s first undertakings was to address the child sex abuse scandal that recently plagued the church. Benedict moved swiftly and decisively. As a close confidant of Pope John Paul II, Benedict was familiar with the toll it was taking on the church, mincing neither word nor action: declaring the abusers “gravely immoral” and removing the likes of Father Marcial Maciel from active ministry. Pope John Paul was purportedly in shock and couldn’t fathom the evil required.

Nearing his end of days, John Paul aspired to show the face of God, emphasizing the sanctity of life to show that all life was paramount. His ailing health became an asset enabling him to embody the church’s pro-life doctrine, an undeniable example of the fragility and impermanence of the human condition. But his denial and infirmity may have inadvertently prevented timelier action.

As the controversy consumed the church, then Cardinal Ratzinger, witnessed the consequences first-hand. When he became Vicar of Christ, Benedict spent an inordinate amount of time readdressing issues left behind by his predecessors. Benedict instituted behind-the-scenes reforms and mechanisms aimed at preventing a repeat of the misdeeds of those vile few. The true impact of his contributions is yet to be seen. It is impossible to deny, though, that God’s Rottweiler cracked the whip.

In the corporate world, we see CEOs who know when it is time to pass the reins. We also see CEOs who continue long past their prime. Bill Gates handed Microsoft over, whereas Steve Jobs arguably left Apple too late. We can argue their respective leadership skills, however, one clearly bridged the transition while the other, simply, didn’t have a continuity of operations plan.

And now we see the pope, holding one of the most storied and impactful leadership positions in history, a visionary and servant leader, emerging, as a spiritual symbol of courage. Perhaps after deep reflection, Benedict decided that the church needed to bridge a leadership transition smoothly so that the progress and reforms instituted could continue, unaffected. Crises arise and fester when leadership is incoherent and incompetent; so too does spiritual decay.

The pope has dedicated 85 years to the ministry of Christ. It’s inconceivable to think he woke up one day and decided he was too tired to continue. Perhaps God is simply doing what he has done for millennia, using the humble as shining examples, a Christian grace, to be revered and replicated.

One of Benedict’s greatest contributions may well be his voluntary resignation: a status quo reset for the greatest of all CEO torch passes. Greater papal self-awareness could become the new norm. His actions could also pave the way for future popes to resign – engendering Benedict a trendsetter.

He has set the stage for the next-generation to take the mantle and lead Catholics globally. In a world increasingly turning away from God, Benedict’s example should well inspire greater leadership for the Apostolic church, particularly during periods of tumult.

It was with great humility that Benedict resigned. It would have been easiest to ride out his tenure in a limited fashion citing doctor’s orders. He chose a difficult and controversial path instead – one not taken in nearly 600 years. No doubt it weighed heavily and was made only with great deference to the larger needs of the church’s more than 1 billion followers.

By breaking with tradition, Benedict encompassed the nature of a leader who understands deeply what the job of the pope means. He refused to let the pressures of convention confine what he believed to be necessary. Instead, Pope Benedict, not the perceptions of and by others, defined his service and his tenure, and in doing so, defines the indelible mark of his legacy.

While Pope John Paul exemplified the human condition and the tenet of universal suffering, Benedict exemplifies a fundamental tenet of God’s nature – to reject the trappings of prideful arrogance and choosing instead to offer the church the divinely inspired representation of utter humility.

In the end, one of Pope Benedict’s most lasting teachings will remind us that to be a trendsetter necessitates we are first and foremost humble servants of Christ. “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue in my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ.”

~ Timothy W. Coleman

Written by MattAndJojang

March 1, 2013 at 11:02 am

Humility

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Photo: Streufund/Flickr

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

~ Proverbs 11:2

Written by MattAndJojang

July 2, 2011 at 1:46 am

The Jesus Prayer

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[Kyria; May, 2010]

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:17)

Have you ever wondered what St. Paul was talking about? How can a person pray constantly? Yet this wasn’t the only time St. Paul urged his hearers to constant prayer.

“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” ( Romans 12:12).

“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18).

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”  (Col 4:2).

If he took the trouble to say this to four different communities, he must have thought it was important. And he must have thought it was possible. He wouldn’t have kept urging his hearers to do something that was completely beyond their capability.

In the 2nd through 5th century, men and women began going out into the deserts of Palestine and Egypt to devote themselves wholly to prayer. They are known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They wanted to find a way to be in constant communion with God, as St. Paul had urged.

They soon discerned that the reason it’s hard to be in such communion is the ceaseless inner flow of wandering thoughts: old memories, desires, fears, criticism of others, any number of aimless thoughts that disrupt the mind and keep it unsettled. These are not the constructive thoughts used in problem-solving, but the wandering thoughts of a mind seeking something to “chew on.” Since the impediment came in the form of thoughts, the cure was a substitute thought—a single, simple thought of prayer. After experimenting with various short scriptures and petitions, this is the form that emerged: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It called the Jesus Prayer.

The prayer is drawn from Gospels, from passages where people called on Jesus for mercy: the ten lepers  who cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13), the Canaanite woman who said , “have mercy on me, O Lord, son of David.” (Mt15:22), and blind Bartimaeus, who said,  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). In Jesus’ parable, the publican “would not even lift his eyes to heaven but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). These requests for mercy aren’t like a criminal begging a judge for lenience, but are stories of people in need asking for the Lord’s tender mercy.

I’ve been saying the Jesus Prayer for fifteen years now, and have found that it has greatly increased my ability to sense the presence and voice of the Lord. Mostly, it gets rid of the clutter. Instead of being blindsided by thoughts that carry me away into the past or future, I am able to size up the thought and decide whether or not I want to give it my time. The Jesus Prayer strengthens the part of your mind that observes your mind, building an entryway, as it were, where thoughts must prove their validity before being invited in. At all times, the inner you rests in the presence of our Lord, the light that drives away all darkness.

As we said, the goal is to pray constantly, but you can’t begin by doing anything all of the time; you have to begin by doing it some of the time, and gradually build up. The advice about acquiring the habit of this Prayer hasn’t changed for 1500 years. Set aside a bit of time each day when you will do nothing but say the Prayer—even just ten minutes a day. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and begin repeating the prayer inside. The ancient sources speak of “bringing the mind into the heart,” but you must keep in mind that “mind” and “heart” don’t mean “reason” and “emotion” in the ancient texts. (As best I can tell, the notion that we are divided into “head” and “heart” arose in the West in the Middle Ages. It’s not biblical and, I’ve become convinced, not true.) In the ancient writings about the Jesus Prayer, the “mind” is the receptive intelligence, the understanding or comprehension. It is always hungry for something to take in, and restless. During prayer practice, discipline that hungry mind to keep returning to gaze at the Lord. Deny it anything other than the words of the Prayer to think about. As St. Paul said, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ”  (2 Cor 10:5). You will find this impossible at first, but very gradually you will make headway. Those who stick with it report that, over time, there is a nearly physical sensation of the prayer activity move from buzzing around the top of your head, to being lodged securely at your physical center, the chest or heart. (This has nothing to do with emotions; the Prayer is a mental exercise, but it does, of course, produce better control over negative emotions.)

I wondered at first how it was possible to be praying all the time when I had so many other things to think about and accomplish. I found that it works by utilizing a layer of your awareness, not your entire awareness. It is like having a friend along as you go through your day. The presence of your silent friend wouldn’t limit your ability to concentrate and handle the demands of daily life, but it would give them a different color or flavor. In this case, the best of Friends provides tranquility, perspective, love for the unlovely, patience, and good humor.

But the purpose of the Jesus Prayer is not tranquility or inner healing; the purpose is to bring you into the presence of Christ. He is all our joy. I think it is wise that the Prayer asks for mercy, to remind us of the necessity of humility, rather than the narcissism that can accompany the self-designation “spiritual.” So the Jesus Prayer is not an end in itself, but a way of training the mind to remain always in his presence, no matter what else life brings. As the anonymous pilgrim says, in the 19th century Russian text The Way of a Pilgrim, “Sometimes my heart would feel as if it were bursting with joy, so light was it and full of freedom and consolation. Sometimes I would feel a burning love towards Jesus Christ and all of God’s creatures…Sometimes, by invoking the name of Jesus, I was overcome with happiness, and from then on I knew the meaning of these words, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’”

~ Frederica Mathewes-Green

Written by MattAndJojang

June 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm