In recent weeks, I’ve participated in internet discussions where people have accused me of not being humble. I never claimed to be the most humble guy in the world, but they said I was arrogant. I was not consciously trying to be arrogant, but it made me look over my posts to see why people might take my words for arrogance. It came down to this:
Because I have firmly held convictions and was not willing to acquiesce to viewpoints I knew to be wrong, I was accused of being arrogant and branded “not humble.” If you know the sky is blue, and people insist it’s green, should you give in to what people claim, or stick with what you know to be true? Humility doesn’t mean abandoning what you know to be right. It means however, to not treat people as inferior to you because they hold views other than your own.
Jewish people tend to argue. We argue about all kinds of things, and express varying opinions. People who are not aware of this aspect of Jewish culture mistake the clash of opinions for fighting; and they may well appear to be fighting, but it is actually a way to examine different sides of an issue. When all is said and done, people can part as friends and may even go out to eat together.
It was in just such a discussion I was having with people one internet evening, when a non-Jewish woman watching our discussion came to the conclusion was that I am not humble, and in fact, was arrogant. I pointed out to her that her judgment of me was itself arrogant, and she accused me of not showing “love” to the person I was arguing with. To her, “love” apparently meant mutual agreement. The irony of it all was that after she accused me of spreading discord among brethren and accused me of being a lousy teacher because I didn’t play according to her way of discussion, the guy who she said I was creating discord with, friended me on facebook. Apparently, he didn’t think I was spreading discord, only her. In all fairness to the woman, she apparently was unfamiliar with Jewish styles of discussion. She was just trying to be a peacemaker.
Once again, what are the rules for humility? Can we disagree with people and still be humble? I think we can. Does holding to your view make you arrogant? I think not. You can still argue with someone and not treat them less than yourself. Respect is earned on the battlefield of disagreement. If a person makes a good case for his view, I will respect him more because of it.
I have long made it a point to respect people based on how they treat others, and not on whether or not they agree with me. Some of the people I like most are people I strongly disagree with, and some of the people I like least, are people who hold views similar to my own. Humility means treating people with kindness and as fellow travelers in this world. It does not mean pretending we agree with everyone, or playing “nice.” As long as we don’t disrespect people, we should be able to disagree with them. It is okay to disagree as long as you don’t think an opinion makes you a better person. It is actions that make us better or worse.. and not better or worse than others, but better or worse versions of ourselves. There is no place for arrogance if you are only comparing yourself to yourself.