Self-righteousness and Humility

A photo from the Northeast Mission Area Confirmation service, held Saturday, April 25 at St. James, Hibbing.

As she began to speak, I was initially impressed with her credentials and her grasp of the subject matter. However, once the question and answer period began, I could feel a change in perspective for both myself and others in the room. Becoming acutely aware of my changing experience, I concentrated on listening deeply to the interactions taking place.

Self-righteous: Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior (Oxford Dictionary). That was the phrase that kept swirling in my head. As others offered alternative points of views, or asked probing questions, the speaker quickly moved to a very dismissive posture. With each exchange she became more and more agitated and then argumentative. Not only did she give the clear message that her perspective was superior, but that she herself was superior to all others in the room.

One of my earliest spiritual directors asked me, “Do you believe that in your role, it is important to be the ‘most spiritual’ person in the community?” One of my influential mentors suggested to me a long time ago, “If at anytime you believe you are the smartest person in the room, regardless of your position, education, experience or the subject matter – you have lost the capacity to be effective.” One of my toughest teachers taught me that the moment you can’t be both a teacher and a learner in any situation, or with any individual, you have lost the chance to still grow and evolve as a person.

In the end, what these incredible companions fostered in me was the importance of humility. If I believe I am the ‘most’ anything – spiritual, smart, moral, champion for justice, or whatever – I have in fact lost my capacity to grow. And this would inevitably decrease the value I do have in any set of circumstances. It is great to be passionate… yet if that passion focuses on me and what I know or believe, and not on the greater good, it is then about self-righteousness, not about transformation.

Self-righteous: Confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others (

Humility: The quality or condition of being humble; Modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank (

So which do you think is closer to following in the Way of Jesus?

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