Chesterton on Humility and Conviction

GKG.K. Chesterton. That gritty old Brit always puts a smile on my face. Talk about razor sharp wit. And then the force of his thought is like an upper cut to the abdomen. Puts you right on the canvass in a deep ruminative state. And the brilliant humor… man! Gotta love the guy! Well, in his book Orthodoxy he has some great insights. Some of it is a bit hard to follow in spots, but mostly his stuff just sings. He has this quirky, yet highly intelligent, even elegant way of putting old truth in a warm, fresh light.
He had this to say about humility:
“If a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.”
I like that. I’m afraid our worlds have become so cramped, only because we have taken up so much space in them. This is something I struggle with. I think about myself a lot… how people perceive me, how they take me, how they like me or don’t like me. What did I ever do to them? You know, that kind of stuff…
But, to that, Chesterton retorts:
“But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could be smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky…”
     *Sigh* The freedom of not having to be consumed with ourselves, all of a sudden, makes the world quite a fascinating place. When passing someone on the street and the thought rises to the top or our heads: “I bet they think I’m ________!” Take it from Chesterton… they probably don’t give a rip! And at that moment – we’re free. We’re free to engage the world… be interested in their story. I think this is the humble man’s approach to life. And talk about a great mentality for a minister of the gospel. Small self, big world. Ah, the possibilities!
Then to add to that, Chesterton makes this observation:
“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth… We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table… Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced.”
     So beautiful a thing is a humble person who possesses strong conviction. I don’t know if there’s a more attractive combination. Humility and conviction! But, imagine if a person just focuses on humility. Well, great… but is there anything in the package? Are they so diminutive, in word and deed, that they blend into the furniture? Or what about a person who is loaded with conviction and yet lacks the softness of humility? They are all angles and edges… every word is a bullet. Does anyone want to be near them? There’s nothing particularly attractive about either extreme. But, put both together – mmm! – and you have something to reckon with.

But, more to Chesteron’s point… humility should never bleed over into the lines of truth? Being humble does not require a person to be devoid of conviction. And we don’t need to humble the notion of truth. This age of tolerance, however, has challenged a man or a woman with convictions. To them claiming truth is an arrogant thing to do. But, the funny thing is these pushers of tolerance are the most impassioned souls on earth. They have a conviction that no one is to express, or even have… conviction. How bout that for hypocrisy? So, I’m fascinated by this savory blend: humility enlivened by conviction; conviction tempered by humility. John the Baptist comes to mind. Can you think of any others?

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