Learning Strength Through Humility

“It is great folly not to part with your own faults which is possible, but to try instead to escape from other people’s faults, which is impossible.”

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Until I was in my 40s, and learned a lot more about myself, including keeping healthier and real boundaries with others, I can say I performed this trick of mind on myself many times, the very thing Marcus Aurelius warned against almost 2,000 years ago. In order to create the best boundaries of self, we need to recognize our faults and ‘part with them’ or we will always be victimized by running from or into the faults of others. I like to think of our faults not as the negative but as a positive area for our growth and learning. Learning is often re-learning and remembering what was already lived, felt, and understood by the greatest minds of our past and present.

We can cure ourselves of our faults, part with our faults, by becoming humble, and through humility, become our best. Humility is self-knowledge as well as knowledge of others. I was re-reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea today and the narrator says about Santiago, the old fisherman, “he was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.”

I think this is the same self-knowledge Marcus Aurelius wrote about. Santiago the old fisherman in Hemingway’s novella knows himself, in his bad luck with fishing and then his trial and loss of the giant marlin eaten away by sharks. None of that matters because the character of the man is not just intact, it is elevated through his actions, manifestly the result of his natural humility in the face of all things.

The child in Hemingway’s classic loves the old man, for the man he is, the man that the boy models himself against. The boy asks Santiago, the old man, his friend and mentor and ideal,

“But are you strong enough now for a truly big fish?”

To which the old man replies,

“I think so. And there are many tricks.”

The biggest trick, I learned myself, is to know and accept yourself. Part with and learn from your faults and be your best self. Then the faults of others you neither must avoid or run from. You won’t try to change others or be affected by them and their choices. You will be exactly where you need to be. Courageously you in full, all you need to be for every situation, as you were meant to be, fully and presently human.

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