Last week I wrote about the Black Forest tragedy in 1936 and how five boys died of exposure on a hiking trip as a result of what many considered to be negligence. It’s possible that the tragedy might have been avoided if the person in charge had heeded the warnings that came his way. In other words, if he had acted with less haughtiness and more humility, the boys might have survived.
Granted, that’s a lot of “ifs” and “might haves,” but it is clear from the incident that haughtiness and humility can lead to very different outcomes. Not just in leadership but in life, too. With a nod to John Bunyan, the irony is that one of the paths to humility rises out of the bog of haughtiness. How? Through failure and rejection, which can either motivate you to get back on the right path, or sink you in self-pity, resentment, and depression.
Going from haughtiness to humility isn’t like flipping a switch, though. It is a percolating process, a painful one, that awakens you to the fact that you are up to your neck in muck and turns you in the right direction out of the bog. God gives you the strength, but you have to start moving your feet. That sucking sound is your ego being released with all the other miasmic gases.
Incredibly, some of us don’t know that we are in muck and need to get out for our own good and that of those around us. Even more incredible, others have to be shown more than once. In my case, I have to be shown an average of three times before I start moving my feet. And even then I am tempted to look back in nostalgia at the swamp, risking eternal damnation like Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, or Eurydice in Greek mythology, who had to go back to Hades forever. Poor Orpheus. Turns out humility isn’t for the meek.
Failure and rejection ratchet up slowly, so that it’s easy not to notice and delude ourselves into thinking our version of reality is right and those who reject us just don’t understand. Depending on how stubborn we are, the ratcheting can take years or even decades. Sometimes, we go to our graves resisting the move from haughtiness to humility to happiness. Popular culture reinforces this with messages that we can do whatever we want whenever we want if we just set our minds to it. Twitter is effective here, delivering its message in 280 vacuous, vicious characters.
When I say it takes three times pour moi, I’m talking about big-ticket items like love, family, and career. Mundane things like buying a car or reconciling a balance sheet require more attempts, but there’s much less at stake. I’ve always found it funny that when you buy a car the salesperson congratulates you as if you just won a Pulitzer. Of course, years ago I agonized over which martial art to study–karate or kung fu–for nearly as long as I agonized over the Trinity and whether to go back to church. Some might call that obsessive. I prefer to think of it as doing my due diligence. Or, as I like to put it, doing that voodoo that I do so well.
What really bogs me down in the bog, though, is that I keep making the same mistake. I tend to rush into things Patton-style and then wrap them up before getting them right. This came up recently in a streaming series project. Episode one? We’re done, I told my coauthor. Why go back? It’ll only mess up the treatment. I chalk this up to a character flaw that, happily, has been receding with age like a gum line. I am slower now and less likely to jump to conclusions, although if I had a bungee business, it would still be called “Jumping to Conclusions.”
All is not lost, however. I am not irredeemable. I’ve learned to slow down and make decisions in light of past mistakes, the majority of which I made while slogging my way through the bog of haughtiness. You know, something like the Black Forest leader’s boast that, “We English are used to sudden changes in the weather.” But God has been merciful with me, giving me not just second chances but third chances. That’s as much a testament to his love as the thickness of my skull.
But I will definitely get it right the third time around.
Image credits: feature by Deepak Kumar on Unsplash; horses by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash; numeral by Tony Hand on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”