How to Stay Humble

Some who know me well might tell you that I'm not the best person to be writing an essay about how to stay humble: not with my bullet-proof self-esteem and nearly undeflateable ego.  Some might even go so far as to compare my ego to a zeppelin: massive, always sailing to new heights, full of hot air and gas, given to dropping bombs and incendiaries on people, and liable to go up in a ball of flames at any moment.

One can only wonder what heights my hubris might reach if not for the following tools of humiliation in my life. I suppose, in the end, I ought to be thankful that God has seen fit to temper my Hindenburg of pride with a little humility.

How to Stay Humble:

1. Have a job like mine. Over the years, I've come to realize that teenagers act as perfect foils for proud, opinionated egomaniacs who always think that they're right about everything.1 In other words, they make perfect foils for people like me. First, they absolutely delight in pinpointing anything in my lessons that is not absolutely, 100%, grade-A certified as accurate. I could deliver the most scintillating and intellectually-satisfying lesson ever known to man, but if I accidentally reference a poem by Tennyson as appearing on Page 43 of their books instead of as being on Page 44, then all is completely lost. Second, teenagers delight in my accidental verbal flubs and will continue to quote them forever. Long after the stars of our solar system have all gone into supernova, my students will still be giggling over the time that I accidentally referenced my parents' generation as "Baby Boobers" instead of "Baby Boomers." Third, they're really great about interrupting my lectures in order to deliver, apropos of nothing, little darts capable of puncturing even the most high-flying dirigibles of dignity: "Hey! You have pepper in your teeth!" or, "Why do you always have such dark circles under your eyes?" or, "You don't ever wash your car, do you?" or, "What's going on with your hair?" Things like that.

2. Have a family like mine. Sure, they're awesome and all. Everybody knows that. And don't think that I'm about to go off on a rant about how I find my family members embarrassing to be seen with in public, because I'm not. All I'm going to say is that when it comes to being able to deflate my personal airship of honor, my family absolutely takes first prize. First, there's my mother, whose natural response to the majority of my antics is to sigh and say, "It's no wonder you're not married." Then there's my sister, who has taken to pushing me off sidewalks in public, just because she can. Or my brother, who has attempted to train his five children to call me Aunt Awful (all the while claiming that it should be spelled Offal).  Oh, the humanity.

3. Have motor skills and spatial orientation like mine. Or, should I say, a lack both of motor skills and spatial orientation. If I could actually dribble a basketball and walk forward at the same time, it would probably be a good time to cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The humility that a lack of motor skills brought to my life began early on. I was ten or eleven before I could ride a bicycle on my own, and this was only after many, many training sessions in which my father ran behind me, gripping the back of the bike to keep me from hitting parked cars. One of the first times that he let go, I ran the bike directly into a tree. By some miracle, I eventually learned not only to ride a bicycle but also to drive a car. One day while driving home from church, I saw in the rear-view mirror a minor traffic accident occur about half a block behind me on the otherwise empty road. Due to spatial disorientation, my primary response was to hit the brakes and lay on the horn. My sister, who was in the passenger's seat at the time, still regales friends with the experience of looking up from her book to the shock of my slamming on the  brakes and laying on the horn in the face of an empty stretch of road.

I could probably go on with tales of how my students, my family, and my own lack of agility have led to bringing down my airship of arrogance, but I think you get the general idea. This leads us directly to #4.

4. Learn to recognize, admit to, and laugh at your failings. Everyone else in your life has already realized how flawed you are and is having a good time laughing at you. You might as well bring your blimp down to join them.
1- Literary foils are most often a study in strong contrasts, although in some very rare cases, foils are mirror images of each other. This would be one of those cases.


  1. Love the driving example in #3. Maybe the offal aunt thing is a reference to haggis you may or may not have had in the UK.

  2. Julie, I didn't have any haggis. I try not to eat things that resemble alien babies that closely.


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