Walking the Humble Highwire

If you’ve never watched ‘The Princess Bride’ then I need to issue a spoiler alert which will occur in approximately 115 words’ time.

“In that case,” says the man in black, “I challenge you to a battle of wits.”

Vizzini, the Sicilian, accepts the challenge with glee. This small hunchbacked man begins overly confident and, truth be told, exhilarated by the fact that he is undertaking a battle of wits with someone he considers to be on his intellectual level. Indeed, his offsiders Inigo and Fezzik are not scholars and bow to his superior intellect.

Before being issued the challenge by the man in black, Vizzini boldly declares: “I cannot compete with you physically and you are no match for my brains.”

What follows is a comedic, though tense, exchange that results in Vizzini laughing hysterically until he succumbs to the poison. His ‘superior’ intellect, and final act of desperate trickery, fail him. A realisation that does not dawn upon him until the final seconds of his life.

Vizzini may be a slightly grotesque and exaggerated characterisation of pride coming before a fall, but we all know how that humiliation feels. And Australians are well known for taking enjoyment in bringing people down a peg or two!

Pitfalls and Poppies

In both Australia and New Zealand, tall poppy syndrome refers to the deliberate criticism of successful people. This is, generally, the result of their peers feeling as though they are too successful, or have been bragging about their success.

So, it would appear that we abhor pride, or what we believe is pride. But I could argue that the motivation behind tall poppy syndrome is not wanting to help the other grow in the virtue of holiness. I’d go so far to say that is out of more jealous motives, and our own pride. If we bring down someone else who is successful, then they’re not better than us anymore, and we’ve equalled the playing field so to speak.

In other words, the ones toppling the tall poppies are just as, perhaps even more, proud than the poppies they envy.

The humble highwire

There’s a fine line between ‘hiding your light under a bushel’ and boasting it from the rooftops. On the one hand, we want to offer those aptitudes and gifts that we have received from God to those around us. Conversely, these gifts are on loan, and the praise for which must go to the one who loaned them to us.

With a culture around us that seems to encourage self-promotion – especially within the realm of social media influencers – we need to be mindful that even the most successful of these people would not enjoy the successes they do have, if God had not endowed them with the talent required.

Why God distributes these the way He does will not make any sense to us in this life. We should not be resentful of those who appear to have been bestowed the gifts, circumstances or social media following, that we desire. Nor should we malign them by seeking to bring them down so as to make ourselves feel better.

Instead, let’s focus on learning more about ourselves. What are the charisms and talents that God has given me? What is He calling me to contribute to my circle of influence – small though it may be? What is my unique capacity?

The more we grow in self-knowledge, the more we can see ourselves – both relation to God and to others – truthfully, and with real humility. Then, and only then, can we be free to look at others without pride clouding our vision.

We all have our unique potential to fulfil, in our own way, and in our own sphere. With humility we can accept these invitations – not limitations – to lean into our full identity as a beloved son or daughter of God; a cherished child who can say sincerely: ‘to God be the glory.’

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