AS a child, something that used to puzzle me was why Jesus was born in a humble cattle shed? Why couldn’t he have been born in a palace? Later, in that lowly birth, I realized what humility really is.
I like the story of a young woman who wanted to go to college. Her heart sank however, when she read the question on the admission form that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst.
To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear applicant: A study of the admission forms reveals that this year our school will enroll 1,452 new leaders. We would like to accept you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.” Sometimes a little bit of humble pie goes well with a rich meal. Actually, what passes for conceit in many people is often just a plea for attention. A poor sense of self may cause one to want to be the prominent star in every constellation. Humility, on the other hand, does not require that one shine less brightly than others, simply that all be given an opportunity to shine.
That great 19th Century African American educator Booker T showed the power of a simple and modest spirit. A story is told of a day when Washington, then a professor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, happened to pass the mansion of a wealthy woman as he walked to work.
The woman did not recognize him and called out, “Hey you! Come here! I need some wood chopped!” She was a product of her southern post-Civil War culture and simply perceived him as a black man who was there to do her bidding. Without a word, Dr. Washington peeled off his jacket, picked up the ax and went to work. He not only cut a large pile of wood, he also carried the firewood into the house and arranged it neatly by the fireplace.
He had scarcely left when a servant said to the woman, “I guess you didn’t recognize him, ma’am, but that was Professor Washington!” Embarrassed and ashamed, the woman hurried over to Tuskegee Institute to apologize. The great educator respectfully replied: “There’s no need to apologize, madam. I’m delighted to do favours for my friends.”
The professor may have taught one of his greatest lessons that day: He taught that every star can shine without one out-shining all the others. It was a lesson about peace: he taught how self-interest must often be set aside for the good of the whole.
And it was a lesson about spirituality: He taught about the power of a meek and humble spirit in a world where aggression is too-often confused with strength. A baby in a cattle shed, and a professor who felt no harm in cutting wood.