Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Article = Combination of Two Posts

This column is the combination of this post and this post. (Due to space limitations, I have to cut each post, leaving out some important stuff, though.)

The Humble Hero

Why be humble? It seems so passé. The word “humility” immediately conjures up the medieval image of a cringing, cloistered clergyman, subsisting on breadcrumbs and brackish water. This sort of self-abnegation seems out of place in the 21st century, where self-promotion and self-indulgence are the norm. Humility can only get in the way of “exercising leadership” or “promoting your personal brand”.

We reject humility out of ignorance. Being humble has nothing to do with being meek, or lacking in self confidence. In fact, humility is the hallmark of any true hero. The humble hero doesn’t aspire to glory, or even humility; he simply wants to do his job. Or, as the Mishnah puts it:

“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai would say: If you have learned a great deal of Torah, don’t take credit for yourself---it’s for this reason that you were created.”

This Mishnah teaches us that authentic responsibility is not pursued in order to attain glory. The truly humble live to achieve lofty goals, but make little of it; they see themselves simply as doing what is expected of them. Their attitude is that they are “just doing their job”.“I’m just doing my job” is the motto of humble heroes. Their humility is based on a work ethic which drives them to succeed in silence, content to have accomplished what life expected of them.

On May 12th Irena Sendler passed away. During World War II, Irena, a young mother and social worker, was a member of a Polish underground devoted to saving Jews. With great courage and cunning, Irena used her position to smuggle 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hide them in orphanages.

Reading the obituaries about Irena, it’s hard not to notice the differences between this humble woman and today’s erstwhile heroes. Our contemporary heroes are celebrities, people who look good on baseball diamonds, on movie screens and on the red carpet. The “entertainment media” breathlessly follows their every move. These celluloid heroes have our undivided attention, and are famous for being famous.

In actuality, a real hero doesn’t look good; they do good. And after they’ve done good, they don’t revel in self congratulation, but rather think about what more they could have done. After receiving a long overdue award from Poland in 2007, Irena declared:

"I could have done more…..this regret will follow me to my death.".

Irena is a genuine hero. Like all humble heroes, she was “just doing her job”. Or, to put it in Irena’s words:

"Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory."

I wish the justification for my existence on earth was as good as Irena’s.

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