Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility:he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
- From “The Great Sin,” in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
My first interaction with a Christian community was through a winter retreat in the middle of my freshman year of college, shortly after I’d accepted Christ. The topic of the retreat was that of community—something we’d be working on building in the coming semester. The definition they provided us at that time was simple and easy to remember: to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served and to celebrate and be celebrated.
I didn’t understand, initially why knowing and being known was so important or why it was the initial part of the definition. I came to realize, however, that some of the greatest and most-lasting investments I would make in college would be in the friendships I had and people I met. I realized that I loved staying up with friends, finding out random details in their lives and how that made them uniquely who they were--like my best friend, who was legally blind, but got around campus with such ease that I didn’t know she was blind when I first met her. Or like another close friend who confessed to me that she’d been sexually abused as a child and struggled with how to be close to men.
As time went on, I found myself becoming somewhat of a social butterfly. Friends teased that I could never “just stop by” because invariably, I found myself in some conversation with some friend or even new acquaintance, and would find it hard to tear myself away. I realized that there were certain advantages to being able to connect with people and trying to get to know them. It made it easier to communicate that I loved them, because I found out about certain small gifts or actions that might be meaningful to them. It made it easier to serve them, if I knew they were going through a hard time. And it definitely made celebrating with them easier—they were far more likely to share that they had a birthday or some special event that was coming up if they knew I was interested.
I lament, at times, that I seem to attract a great deal of attention from people who tend to live on the social fringe because I’m “nice.” It’s not so much that I feel burdened “socially”--I know where my identity lies, and it’s not in how cool my friends are or how popular I am. It’s more that they feel attracted to me because I try to be the kind of listener who really wants to know. Even if I’m not an expert in your area of study or interest, I try to relate to it and understand it. Whether or not people seek to have these conversations, I find that they usually feel some affinity with me if I can engage them in talking about some subject close to their heart. The burden that lies therein is that I might not always feel the same, because they may not show any interest in reciprocating—in learning about me. But I think and hope that the notion of how good they feel to talk about something they love or enjoy discussing hopefully wears off on them and helps them in future interactions.
It’s funny what C.S. Lewis says about pride: it’s so true. The notion of not-thinking-of-one’s-self as the anti-pride, of a truly humble person talking to you and genuinely taking an interest in what you said to him. . . I think that’s what I’m trying to get at with this notion of knowing and being known. . . why I find that I am truly kindred with those who reach out to those on the fringe out of a real interest in others, rather than any obligation. As Paul exhorts, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4.
We communicate how we want to be communicated with. We are all longing for that level of intimacy, but are also scared of being that vulnerable. What if we’re seen to be foolish or (gasp!). . . stupid? We all want to be cool, to get places, to be popular. We don’t want to be the first to open up, to share what might be considered crazy or laughable hopes or dreams. But at heart, we seek to be known. You know what it’s like to be where everyone knows your name, where the barista knows what your “usual” is and where you don’t have to tell people you’re stressed—they can just tell. You might wonder—how do I get that? What’s the secret? C.S. Lewis and Paul might both tell you that it starts with you asking another person and learning about what makes them tick, what gives them joy or why they are so stressed. For until we recognize that others want to be known just as we do, and reach out in that vein, we will never truly know and be known.