Tag Archives: humility

Musings on Gaining Understanding

The first step to gaining wisdom is admitting ignorance.

Several years ago, I frequented a number of online message forums that centered around discussing Witchcraft and Paganism.  On one of my favorites, I included the above statement in all of my posts. What most of the other posters did not realize was that I included the line as a reminder and comfort to myself, because it was a reality in my life I was struggling with at the time.

This was back when I was still relatively new to the Pagan paths.  I had a lot to learn (of course I still do and always will, as that’s the nature of any spiritual journey).  In many ways, this was frustrating to me.  Particularly because of my Christian background, which left me brimming with a great deal of knowledge about that religion and culture.  I could tell all of the major Bible stories, quote and explain several different verses in the Bible, and was even knowledgeable enough that I ended up preaching a number of sermons over the years before I eventually left my church and the faith I was raised in.

All of that was behind me.  Being the knowledgeable one was in the past. Instead, here I was having to learn everything about my new spiritual journey from step number one. Frustrating indeed.

I realized if I was going to progress on my journey, I needed to make peace with that reality. I realized that I had to accept that I didn’t know everything — or much of anything, really — so that I could get down to changing that.  So I typed up that sentence and started putting it places where I would see it, remember my goals and what’s needed, and even be comforted by the fact that it’s all part of the journey.

I’ve never forgotten that statement, because I realized there was a greater lesson there. Towards the end of my experience with the Christian faith, I had also grown prideful. I had started to think that I knew it all, which made the realization that my knowledge at the time would no longer serve me.  i was forced to eat a double portion of humble pie.  So I also remind myself of the above statement to avoid that trap of pride again. That sentence reminds me that even though it’s been over a decade since the first time I wrote it down and even though I’ve learned a lot over that time, there is still much I don’t know and understand.  That statement serves as a constant reminder to acknowledge where I’m still ignorant so that I can continue to seek out an even greater understanding, and hopefully do so in humility.


If I’m going to be an ally, it can’t be about me

Some time ago, I had a friend who liked to be “helpful.”  He loved to do nice things for others.  He loved talking about all the nice things he did for other people.  It got annoying rather quickly.

Mind you, there’s nothing annoying about helping other people.  In fact, such expressions of altruism, hospitality, and compassion are something I personally value greatly — and think everyone should value greatly.

There’s also nothing inherently wrong with sharing stories where one helps another.  It’s often a good way of raising awareness of the problems and needs of others.  If my friend Becky mentions in passing that she gave our mutual friend Ralph some extra grocery money, I might respond by saying that I didn’t realize Ralph was strapped for cash and ask if he’s okay.  I might even contact Ralph and ask him if there’s anything else he needs.

No, the problem with my friend’s behavior was that he was bragging.  What’s more, it quickly became clear that his intentions were not so much to help others but to draw attention to himself in that “look at what a great guy I am” sort of way.  In time, I began wondering if he cared about the people he helped at all beyond a way to show off what a great guy he was.

I thought of this friend as I got involved in a conversation over at Fannie’s Room regarding those people who wish to be seen as, to paraphrase Fannie, heroic allies of women or racial minorities (or QUILTBAG people or any other marginalized group) for the simplest and most basic things while they ignore subtler, more complex, and equally important (not to mention more common) manifestations of marginalization.

While I certainly agreed with the point Fannie was making, I took it one step further:

You know, I never really got this mentality.  I have no desire to be a “heroic feminist ally.”  Quite frankly, doing so would strike me as making being a feminist ally all about me.  (Do I really need to spell out why this is problematic?)  Personally, I’d much prefer feminists give me an honest critique of where I do well and where I need to improve.

I want to expand on that point.  When a person is acting as an ally to others, it’s not about them, and it’s inappropriate and rude to make it about them.  People who wish to be an ally — whether it’s an ally to women, QUILTBAG people, racial minorities, or some other group — need to understand this fact quite clearly.  Without doing so, one isn’t much of an ally.

On those occasions that I write about feminist issues as a man — or should I ever right about trans* issues as a cisgender man or racial issues as a white man — I don’t do so in order to gain praise.  I do so to help out women (or trans* people or people of other races), and I believe I wholeheartedly have a duty to do my best to help them.  Part of helping them means not drawing attention to or accolades for myself in the process.

That’s why of all the blog posts I’ve ever written, the blog posts I write about women are probably the ones I think hardest about and fret the most over.  It’s easy for me to write one about gay male sexuality, Pagan spirituality, or my past experiences as a fundamentalist.  I’m intimately familiar with those subjects on a personal level.  When I write about issues that affect women, I’m writing about someone else’s experiences and struggles as an outsider.  That calls for great care and attention, because it’s not about me at all.

And that’s the way it should be.