In the fourth century there were a group of men and women (later known as abbas and ammas) who were dissatisfied what society was saying (or “selling”) to people about how they could achieve the meaning of life. In response, they went off to the desert to conduct their inner journeys in self-awareness, self-transcendence, and becoming more naturally compassionate. In doing this they discovered what I would term now as “the cardinal virtue of the desert” which made a journey to discover a meaningful life truly possible.
Today, while we need not go to a physical desert, we can through “alonetime” (time in silence, solitude, and being reflective and mindful even when in a group), we too can seek this virtue. Yet, it is just as elusive today even if we desire it. Maybe a story from my own life will illustrate what I mean by this.
Several years ago when my two granddaughters were very young, my daughter who is a social worker with the Veteran’s Administration and is responsible for severely injured returning Iraqi and Afghani military veterans, said to them after dinner, “What are the gifts you have that you want to share with the world?” Their usual response to such questions by her is to roll their eyes but they know a response is in order if they wish to be able to leave the table and go play outside.
And so, they responded by launching into what they felt was a very complete laundry list of what we would call today their “signature strengths.” Once completed, my son in law who was also sitting at the table and listening to them recite their gifts, finally chimed in and asked, “Well, what about humility?” To which the youngest, who was eight years old at the time, asked, “What exactly is humility?” “Well, get the dictionary,” he said, “and we shall see.”
After she ran, got the dictionary, and he read the definition out loud, he asked, “Well, who do you think of that you know now that you have heard this definition?” To which my daughter and two granddaughters immediately exclaimed, “Mom-Mom!” referring to my wife. Then he asked, “Well what about Pop-Pop?” to which they shook their heads from side to side and said gravely, “No, not Pop-Pop.”
Even if we wish to possess humility, it can be very elusive but we must still try because:
when you take knowledge and you add humility you get wisdom
and when you take that very wisdom and add it to compassion you get love
and love is at the heart of meaning…the heart of life.
~Robert J. Wicks is a clinical psychologist and leading writer about the intersection of spirituality and psychology. In 1996, Pope John Paul II awarded him with a papal medal for his service to the Catholic Church.
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