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. Two or three farmers told me that Ned 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. I sat and chatted with a man at a Sunday pancake breakfast, never knowing that he was a state Senator. I talked with a man and his wife at a town BBQ and, only after they’d left did someone tell me that he was the village mayor. Consumption habits showed humility as well. Kids showed up for camp 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, a journalist, educators, a race scholar, a psychologist, a lawyer, DJ Sarah Grace aka DJ Humble, consumer culture scholars, a sailor, a farmer, a librarian, and others— to come together to discuss the implications of humility in our practices.
Since this inspiring, 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 our experiences, and how can opportunities to decenter the self empower us so that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness?
My collaborators who initiated this project with me:
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)