Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion

My collaborators Aaron Ahuvia (Professor of Marketing, School of Business, University of Michigan-Dearborn), Jamie Vander Broek (Art & Design Librarian, University of Michigan) and Sarah Buss (Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan) and I created a two-day colloquium to consider wide-ranging understandings of humility and practical examples of its impact within diverse disciplinary fields. We brought together practitioners and scholars from psychology, philosophy, journalism, religion, agriculture, medicine, the military, law, consumer culture, the libraries, community engagement, and the arts to contemplate the nature of humility, its benefits and costs, and its role in an era of billionaire entrepreneurs, pervasive reality television, social media, and Donald Trump. By investigating humility, its enabling conditions and effects, we hope to gain insight into what it is to be human, as well as discovering ways to understand, interpret, and respond constructively to the present social and political moment.

To give one example, Rick Boothman, the Chief Risk Officer (or head lawyer) at the University of Michigan Medical Center, told us:

“Sometimes patients experience injuries or unintended harm because of the intrinsic risks, but sometimes patients are injured because the health care providers and health care system were negligent in the patient’s care causing the harm. For decades, “Fortress Medicine” responded to unintended clinical outcomes with arrogance and secrecy, and stonewalled their patients who suffered an adverse clinical outcome and relegated the matter to the insurance industry and the legal profession. This paradigm has become known as “deny and defend.” The refusal to address the patient’s experience leads to cruel and inhumane consequences: it deprives patients and families of any explanation and leaves them abandoned, betrayed, bereft of any sense of justice, and worried that the same fate would befall other patients. Litigation is punishing to all concerned. It is costly, inefficient and highly uncertain, with outcomes dependent more on the theater of the courtroom than on the medical merits of the individual case. Worse, prioritizing litigation chilled any efforts at clinical improvement and peer review, leaving future patients exposed to the same injuries.”

At the colloquium, Rick Boothman led a workshop using professional patients to demonstrate the value and importance of apologizing in the face of mistakes, and the “essential concepts of human decency, compassion, the fundamentals of the caregiver/patient relationship, trust and betrayal, and at its heart, humility for a profession that too often is not humble.”

The colloquium was held in Ann Arbor from October 20-21, 2017, and was a closed event with twenty-eight individuals from within and outside the academy participating. The one public event of the colloquium was a keynote presentation by NY Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow on the topic of Donald Trump, arrogance, and American democracy.

We are currently working on a publication that expands on the ideas that emerged from the colloquium presentations.

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