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Know Thyself: What Medieval Christians Teach Us About Humility

May 6th, 2021 | 13 min read

By Grace Hamman

“Are Americans humble?” a family member asked as I explained part of my dissertation on medieval humility to him. “Um… I don’t really think so. Not generally,” I awkwardly mumbled. This answer was unsatisfactory; firstly, because I bungled it. Secondly, because it was not what he wanted to hear. Sometimes we understand humility as a quality of remembering your roots. Star athletes lay claim to it when they win impossible victories, demonstrating that they will not forget their beginnings now that they’ve achieved success. Donald Trump wanted his Secret Service code name to be “Humble,” drawing on the impression of humility as an especially American, not-afraid-to-get-your-hands-dirty kind of thing. Such versions of humility become implicated in a politicized gatekeeping. “East coast elites” could not possibly be humble. This humility has nothing to do with particular actions or self-knowledge.

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