Humility or Unity: Which Comes First?

A King born in a stable. This season of Advent, leading up to the climax of Christmas, highlights for us the unfathomable surprise to be found in the marriage of majesty and the mundane.

There are few more poignant depictions of humility in Western culture than to behold a monarch being birthed in a manger.

Humility–and its accompanying virtues of submission and honor–are foundational concepts for us as we think about following with excellence. Insisting that you are superior when compared to your peers or superiors will quickly close off many opportunities for your contribution and influence.

For me, humility and unity go hand-in-hand, but there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum here. Does humility breed unity, or does unity create space for humility? While some may assume that, once you’ve established a posture of humility you can then engage with your co-workers in unity, I think that it actually works best the other way around.

If you can commit to unity–to a meaningful association with those around you, founded upon shared values and desired outcomes–you can then move into contributing from a place of humble involvement which will lead to real effectiveness and achievement.

When it comes to establishing yourself in humility, your religious convictions may help, and your view on the universal dignity of humankind may assist you, but we tend to be wired more toward self-aggrandizement than humbly acknowledging our own shortcomings and needs. Much more effective is to experience humility in the context of group unity.

Making a commitment to association, choosing to align yourself with others, should come first. Identifying the things that you care about, and then finding others with whom you can partner to see shared values realized and lofty goals achieved, can promote your desire for unity.

Once a commitment to the group effort–to other people–is made, humility comes more readily as a modus operandi. Why? Because a commitment to being unified with others gives us a degree of freedom to set ourselves aside for the sake of the common cause. We can let go of making much of ourselves, of striving to protect (and enhance) our own ego because our focus is turned toward a larger purpose, our eyes are looking outward to the others who can contribute to what is needed, and who can accomplish the necessary tasks that I would be doomed to encounter as failures.

Serving others from a place of humility is sure to put us in a vulnerable state–we may be overlooked, undervalued, even trampled upon. But we can let go of some of our self-concern when we have a clear sense of the bigger issue, and a committed desire to see the larger aim achieved. The satisfaction of our pride and ego can drift to the background when we see our corporately-held dreams realized.

When we associate ourselves with an endeavor that exceeds our capacities and capabilities, it is more natural for us to be able to engage from an authentic place of humility–of realizing that we cannot do it all ourselves and that there is mutual benefit to be gained in working well with others.

Perhaps the Baby in a stable had a similar experience. It was in the wake of His desire to experience unity with humanity that He was able to endure the humiliation of the manger.

As we move through this Christmas season and close out 2015, perhaps we can all ask ourselves how we might resolve to engage differently in the new year.

What are we committed to? Is our first concern to establish within ourselves a virtue of humility, hoping to then move into a place of helpful contribution? Or are we instead majoring on making a commitment to follow with excellence, to be working in unity with our fellow followers and with our leaders–and then finding the freedom to adopt an appropriate posture of submission, honor, and humility in our relationships toward others which leads to cooperation, synergy, and accomplishment of our visions and goals for 2016?

~~~

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