Friday, August 15, 2008


     There is a dark word that is a derivative of a beautiful word and I am making this humble proposal that this grave inconsistency be rectified. The beautiful word is humility; the dark word is humiliation. Indeed, it is my humble wish that you have never experienced humiliation. Of course, that is very unlikely. Humiliation comes in too many forms and varieties to think that anyone has escaped its dark clutches. Few, if any, make it out of childhood without being doubled over with one or several encounters with humiliation. It may have been as common as the challenge of pronouncing certain letters of the alphabet or forgetting the words to your speech about George Washington in the school play. Perhaps you wore hand-me-down trousers that didn’t quite reach the tops of your shoes or found it almost impossible to grasp the mechanics of long division. It may have been a dose of dyslexia, a pair of thick glasses or a big pee stain on the front of your khakis on your way back from the lavatory. Then again - and God forbid - it could have been a psycho teacher who decided to make an example of you in front of the class, an uncaring parent who demeaned you in front of your friends or a predatory man-of-the-cloth who fed his own demons in the name of love. 
     Adulthood, too, arrives with a full menu of potential humiliation. Arrogant bosses, the loss of employment, infidelity, divorce, financial crises, booze, illness and unrequited love can all lather up into a murderous attack on one’s self-esteem. Have any of us escaped one, several or many of these circumstances? 
     The issue I have with the derivative word – humiliation – is this: humiliation seldom results in humility. I offer these couple of observations to bear witness to my conclusion. First of all, if you ask any rational adult to recall a circumstance from their childhood in which they were unfairly treated, ridiculed or humiliated, few will hesitate to unpack a story or two. Many of those stories begin with phrases like, ‘I had this bitch of a 3rd grade teacher,’ or ‘There was a prick of a little league coach,’ or ‘I was never a great student and one day this group of boys…’ and off they will launch into precise and graphic details of a dark and forever-embedded moment from long ago, very profound and very alive. Secondly, it is seldom that these stories conclude with thoughts like ‘I’d love to hook up with those guys again for old time’s sake.’ Typically, they end with phrases more akin to ‘I’d like to knock the shit out of all of them.’ So, returning to my premise – it seems we carry the putrid baggage of humiliation with us forever and it reeks of retribution. And I would submit that a spirit of retribution – whether active or dormant – is antithetical to a spirit of humility.
     Speak to any mental health professional, spiritual counselor or so-called ‘life coach’ and most will tell you that the battles we fight for our souls in adulthood are linked to some ego ass kicking we received along the way. There are headier, medical terms for these incidents of humiliation but I like the phrase ‘ego ass kicking.’ Other entries in the Appendix to The Lexicon of Humiliation include ‘Personality Murder,’ ‘The First Step on a Lifelong Journey of Self Doubt’ and ‘Well, So Much For Me.’
     Of course, before I can convince anyone that my proposal has merit it is necessary for me to weigh the utter darkness of humiliation against the aura of its root word: humility. There are those rare few we have encountered walking these fleshly miles that possess the lovely glow of humility. It seldom shines like the sun but it is, rather, the soft, warm color of dawn. In this humility there is evidence of completeness, satisfaction and hope. It is usually accompanied by traces of meekness, kindness and calm. Humble people always use their inside voice, only urinate outdoors when they’re in the woods and never puke in barrooms. They weep privately, possess the strange gift of forgiveness and are delighted to live subordinately in the protective shadow of The Ultimate Truth. Oh, what a glorious state of being! Lord only knows from whence it came.
     I believe that we are humbled by encounters with goodness and benevolence and not at all by meanness or greed. So, the next time you see some loud mouth berating some poor, meek soul approach the bully with kindness and urge them to employ a gentler tone. Feel free to share with them this linguistic theory that attempts to demonstrate the paradox of the derivative. If this doesn’t work – and it will not – spray him in the face with one of those stainless steel club soda dispensers like the bartender did to Old Man Gower in the bar on Christmas Eve in Pottersville.


Blogger Ken Van Durand said...

Great to have your cogent thoughts back.

My fondest hope is that you do not take another 3 1/2 leave of absence.


August 21, 2008 at 4:27 PM  

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