On Being Honored
I recently had the experience of being honored for some work I have done. I am grateful for this gesture and I am sure it means more to me than anyone else. And the nice thing about being honored is the memory. Long after everyone else has forgotten the whole thing (appropriately), I can keep remembering. It becomes history. But memory is the way history is present, as St. Augustine tells us. So while others appropriately move on, the memory serves me again and again. I get to be grateful all over again.
For me personally this raises a significant spiritual issue. I’ll continue to use myself as an example, but I suspect I am like many others who like to consider themselves spiritual…or, at least, we are trying to become spiritual. To be spiritual means many things, but one thing I am confident in is that it means humility.
I can’t think of anyone who really likes arrogant people. People who are full of themselves are usually a pain. Maybe it is pride. Certainly pride has received bad press throughout the ages. Pride has been seen as one of the chief sins human beings can commit. But I confess, pride is a tricky thing for me. I think it has been appropriate to have pride in my two girls and what they have done in their short lives. I have pride in my students. I have some pride in what I do and that seems ok. Maybe I am quibbling, but pride is not easy for me to deal with. I don’t have the same problem with arrogance.
Arrogance is typically a pain. And arrogant people are a pain and a challenge to my ability to love and understand. So this brings me back to the fact that I have been honored. I take some pride---in the sense of feeling good---in what I have effectively done. I am not the only one in the world who has done effective work, but in this case I am the one singled out for the honor. I am grateful.
The spiritual issue here is humility. I would like to think I am appropriately humble. Good spiritual people are basically humble people. A deep spiritual person should not be full of himself or herself. There should be no tinge of arrogance. If you are deeply spiritual, you know it has not been totally your show. It is a dance you do with the Spirit and the Spirit is the One who has done the leading. You have the humility to know you have only tried to be a decent follower. You are a dancer, but you are not the lead.
When I am honored, my humility immediately kicks in. That is appropriate. But it can become a kind of false humility. The real issue for me is to know that I have been honored and been genuinely grateful. I am not too worried about becoming arrogant. I am more worried about being “too humble.” I think we become too humble when we slough off something good with an “aw shucks” kind of attitude. It is like a reverse arrogance.
Instead of being arrogant, I can become inappropriately humble and not accept the truth of the moment. I may be playing with some kind of false sense of spiritual appropriateness. Or it may even go deeper. I think sometimes I (and maybe others) have not learned to appreciate fully who we are and the gifts we have. A false kind of humility is just that: false. It is not real. The things for which I was honored are real and I did them. Of course, others do it, too. But in this instance I was the one singled out.
This raises two key issues for me to identify in the process of being honored. The first is recognition. And the second is appreciation. While these may not inherently be spiritual in nature, I argue they are both appropriate in the spiritual world. Let’s look at each one.
Recognition is a good thing. In the case of being honored, I was recognized for what I did. It is true; I did it. And it was recognized. In effect, this means someone else has seen it and said it. I would have known I did it whether anyone else noticed. But it was noticed. Someone spoke publically and I was recognized. None of us are spiritual or do spiritual things in order to be recognized. But if we are recognized, it is appropriate. And it is a nice thing to happen. I am grateful.
Not only was it recognized; I was appreciated. Recognition is nice; appreciation is even better. Someone and, then, some group said “thank you.” In some ways I was appreciated both for what I did and who I am. Appreciation always feels good. It is affirming. It is empowering. I did not do what I did in order to be recognized and appreciated. I did it because it was my job; it is what I agreed to do to the best of my ability.
Recognition and appreciation I want to learn to accept in the truth of who I am. I don’t want to deflect it with a kind of false humility. And I don’t want to grab it with an unbearable arrogance. It’s a spiritual growth point for me. I know I am a better giver than receiver. And I know that is a spiritual issue. With this honor I am back in school trying to learn spiritually and to grow.