The Courage to be a Nobody

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“I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego, my own and everybody’s else’s. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of splash.” - Franny in Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, 1961

How do we square our higher impulses of being humble, caring, and generous with our unbearable need to be seen, gain approval and be the best? 

Humility can be defined as "a psycho-social orientation characterized by 1) a sense of emotional autonomy, and 2) freedom from the control of the competitive reflex,” which is the impulse to oppose or outdo others.

So humility is ‘control’ (I might prefer the word ‘awareness’) of something innately part of our human program - the desire to win. As I witness the rabid scramble up the hierarchy of social media and the lust for perfection of posts, which can go as far as plastic surgery to increase the image of flawlessness, I feel a great compassion for we humans who are so strongly managed by the fear radar in our brain.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “That tension between confidence and humility is what you get if you are going to relate to reality honestly. You don’t get that security of one hundred percent confidence, which turns into pride, and you don’t get the converse feeling that you are just nothing. You’re big and small at the same time.”

Instead of indulging the “competitive reflex,” we can evolve ourselves and the species by turning more in the direction of emotional objectivity, the wisdom to make the smallest amount of space between action and reaction. In that small space is the potential for human growth and the trust in humility as a great freedom. 

Image credit: Richard Seagraves