Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion

Have you ever felt diminished after subjecting the most intimate parts of your life to Likes and Followers? Are you troubled by presidential boasting and disregard for truth?

I first starting thinking about humility while interviewing farmers in Nebraska in the summer of 2016. I was told that a particular person was the best farmer in Aurora. Why? Did he understand crop rotation or insect control? No. He’s the best because he’s so humble. This answer resonated with other experiences during the two summers I spent in small-town Nebraska. For example, no one led with their job title. You could sit and chat with someone at a Sunday pancake breakfast, never knowing that they were a state Senator. Consumption habits showed humility as well; there were no displays of conspicuous consumption. Kids showed up for camp in the morning with their lunch and boots in a plastic grocery bag.

Curious about the role of humility in this community, and the (often) lack of this value in academia, I worked with a collaborative team to consider the nature of humility “in the age of self-promotion.” In October 2017, we invited twenty-six individuals — two artists, three philosophers, a farmer, spiritual leaders, a race scholar, a psychologist, a lawyer,  DJ Sarah Grace aka DJ Humble, consumer culture scholars … — to come together to discuss the implications of humility in our practices.

Since this tremendous, mind-stretching weekend, we have been working on a collection of essays that ask: What is the significance of humility in the era of Trump? In the time of billionaire entrepreneurs and pervasive reality television? How does humility feature as a part of human experience, and how can opportunities to decenter the self empower us through present day circumstances?


My collaborators who initiated this project:
Jamie Vander Broek (Art & Design Librarian, University of Michigan), Aaron Ahuvia (Professor of Marketing, School of Business, University of Michigan-Dearborn), and Sarah Buss (Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan)