The sixth step of humility is to be “content with the lowest and most menial treatment.” We might say, “to be content with less than the best.”
There is nothing in the sixth step of humility and its call for simplicity, authenticity, and self-effacement that speaks of attractiveness to a modern world.
“Getting ahead,” at least in a modern culture, smacks of getting things, getting power, getting status, getting noticed. But the sixth step of humility instructs us not to want any kind of special treatment at all, which implies, of course, that special treatment has nothing to do with genuine freedom. So what are we to think? Where does happiness lie in a consumer society if not in consumption?
The Rule gives us three criteria by which to assess our likelihood of ever being truly happy. Not simply satisfied, that is, but genuinely contented by life. Happy.
First, if you have not attached your sense of self to having the best of everything, you won’t be crushed when you see someone with things that cost more than yours. You’ll be happy to have what you truly need. Second, if you don’t need to be the center of attention, you will be happy just to be part of a group of good people who do good things together. The thirst for attention is a toxic brew. If it comes—in athletics, in government, in public activities—you will be scrutinized. And if it doesn’t, you’ll be depressed. Third, if you don’t expect a constant deluge of praise, privilege, and preeminence, then not experiencing those things will not disturb you.
The Rule is straightforward: If you do not depend on exemption, advantage, and personal prerogatives to measure your happiness, your success, your life will become its own reward. A walk by the lake at night will dilute all the pressures of the day. An appointment for supper with friends will be enough to get you up happy in the morning. Then whatever the turn of the social system around you, your love of life unadorned and unaffected will sustain you.
The sixth step of humility gives us the opportunity to come to know ourselves in the raw. What we are without masks and costumes to protect us from the eyes of the world is where real happiness lies. Even more, humility allows others to know us down to the bone. It is a moment of clarity. It tells us that we are enough for ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to become everything we are, everything we can be, rather than find ourselves pinioned on the false opinion of others.
Humility punctures all the definitions of happiness a world made of plastic has to offer. It’s about authenticity, simplicity, and truth. It’s about being exactly who we are, no more, no less. It’s about being satisfied rather than being intoxicated.
Humility spares us from having to put on airs, keep up, impress, or mask. We don’t need to pretend that we are anyone we aren’t. We only need to become the best of what we are.
—from Radical Spirit: Twelve Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life by Joan Chittister