In our current age of arrogance, humility is associated with wimps and wallflowers – a sign of failure, not success. A culture of narcissism and a society of self-promoters has obscured our past, blinding us to the hidden strength of humility.
Surprisingly enough, American humility is not an oxymoron. George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass: each of these humble heroes reminds us of what we were as a nation, and what we can become.
No one – not even these towering individuals of American achievement – is naturally humble. Each of them had to contend with temptations including ambition, arrogance, and vanity. Out of these trials, their humility grew. The humility James Madison learned as a legislator helped him mold a young nation, despite his reputation as a timid and weak man. The humility of Abigail Adams fed her impossible resilience. Frederick Douglass’s escape from enslavement, and struggle for the equality of all Americans, was a triumph of humility over humiliation.
George Washington’s humility, as great as it was, cannot substitute for ours today. As individuals and as a people, we must rediscover our greatest virtue.
David J. Bobb is Executive Director of Citizen Education for Hillsdale College and lecturer in politics. He is the Founding Director of two national centers for Hillsdale, the Washington, D.C.-based Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship and the Hoogland Center for Teacher Excellence. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and the Claremont Review of Books, and is contributing editor to The U.S. Constitution: A Reader.
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John Edward Hilboldt
Director, Lectures & Seminars