Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.
“In reality, humility means nothing other than complete honesty about yourself.” (William Countryman)
I began to look at humility years ago as the opposite of pride. That view was, at best, sophomoric. I know a little more, now.
I am proud of my Green Beret, the same one I wore to Vietnam and back that now lives in a zippered plastic hat box with Nancy’s Madison General RN cap. I worked for it and I earned it by doing some difficult things many other men chose not to do. This might be a healthy form of pride, good pride.
I am proud of my Combat Infantry Badge. I faced the enemy fire with some courage—enough so the Sergeant with me recommended me for a Silver Star. I told him not to pursue it because I hadn’t done anything heroic. I picked up a machine gun from a wounded man, but the firefight was already over. It only made sense since I had qualified Expert with the M-60. Besides, in a fight, there was nowhere I would rather be than behind that weapon. I only did my job, but I am proud of that and I believe that is a healthy pride.
For forty years, I was not proud of my Bronze Star awarded not for valor but for service. Then, one day while processing PTSD, I talked with Nancy about our operations, how we walked the jungle with one or two other Americans, two or three Republic of Vietnam Green Berets, and interpreter, and fifty to a hundred Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, some of whom were likely Viet Cong.
She looked at me and said, “That’s nuts.”
I decided right there that I really had served well. Discounting my Bronze Star was a false humility, a form of unhealthy pride, bad pride.
Have you ever had a dream about embarrassment? You know, naked in public or doing something totally inappropriate or unacceptable like singing off key in front of a crowd? See, that is a bad form of pride. Fear of failure, embarrassment, or shame robs me of my power, even the power to serve others. Humiliation does not equal humility. It equals false pride.
It gets confusing. It seems that searching out and finding my false pride, boastful pride, or bad pride is healthy. But, looking for my humility is like trying to catch a rainbow.
Maybe true humility is the act of looking for tracks of false pride in me while false pride is looking for the tracks of my humility.