I'm in the midst of reading "Emma", finally making my way through Jane Austen's novels. Huddled under my quilt, with a hot cup of tea, I immerse myself in the manners and sensibilities of 18th century England. Emma is an interesting character. She is presented as both lovable and flawed, at times silly and proud, at other times truly gracoius and caring. A bit like all of us, I suppose.

One of Emma's main shortcomings is pride. All of her associations are ruled by her station in the hierarchy of the small town in which she resides. Some people are fit for friendship, others must be placed within the realm of benefactor/benefactress. At one point, she rues the fact that if only this family were a bit higher on the social scale, she could consider a relationship with them, but of course, it is out of the question.

Although it is easy to decry the class system of Georgian England, pride can rear its head in many of our own associations. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had just returned from a frustrating board meeting. The chair's confidence in his quick thinking, creative problem solving and grasp of the situation left no room at the table for anyone else. My friend's voice, as well as the voices of the others were effectively silenced, and the contributions that could have added and enhanced the topic under discussion were missed.

I've always known that pride was a "deadly sin." Pride puffs one up, pride comes before a fall, etc, but it wasn't until this morning that I put together the fact that one of the main harms of pride is that it closes you to community. It assumes that you have all that is needed, therefore making others superfluous.

True humility, on the other hand, believes not only in the importance of one's own contributions, but allows for, and invites the contributions of others. The humble person doesn't denegrate their own abilities (oh, I have nothing to offer), rather they insist on the gifts and insights of all. Pride isolates and contracts; humility connects and expands.

Emma is the lonelier for her refusal to associate outside her "prescribed" norms. My friend's committee suffers from collaboration. Healthy and vibrant community requires an open door, the generous hospitality of humility.

Leave a Reply.