This semester, New York Times columnist David Brooks is teaching a course at Yale called “Humility.”
As part of the required reading: passages from the Bible, works from St. Augustine and German theologian Reinhold Niehbuhr — and columns by course professor David Brooks himself.
Brooks is teaching a course on humility using his own columns.
To be fair, Brooks has good-naturedly accepted all the jabs he has received for daring to offer a course on the subject of humility — and using his own works as part of the curriculum. He told the online World magazine site that the columns of his that he’s using for the class are not his own thoughts, but compilations of life lessons sent to him by readers.
Also, Brooks said, the course is less about “Humility and How I Achieved It” than it is about character.
He told World magazine that he felt the need for such a course because today’s college students are “hard working and nice, but they are inarticulate about character.”
In his course description (that can be found on the Yale Website), Brooks writes: “Everyone says character is important to leadership but few people know how to build it. This course will survey one character-building tradition, one that emphasizes modesty and humility.
“The strategies covered here start from a similar premise — that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance and weakness. Character emerges from the internal struggles against one’s own limitations.”
As part of the class requirements, Brooks spells out that cheating and plagiarism are not allowed. He adds, “If you do not understand or are uncertain about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please ask.”
Seriously, what college student doesn’t know what constitutes cheating?
The day after the World magazine story about the Yale humility course came out, World posted a story about a new study that suggests “most college freshmen think they’re better than their peers, and better than they really are.”
According to the annual American College Survey, psychologist Jean Twenge found that “college freshmen are more likely to be self-centered and possess unearned self-confidence than at any time in the last four decades.”
Twenge said it’s a result of three decades of the Self-Esteem Movement telling kids how wonderful they are in an effort to combat issues like teen pregnancy, suicide and violence. However, instead of the rate of these issues going down, it has increased.
If you doubt that, just watch an episode of the “My Super Sweet 16” reality documentaries on MTV, which document the mega-thousands spent on sweet 16 birthday parties and the excess that these teens expect and demand.
Twenge calls it a narcissism epidemic. We are raising a world full of egomaniacs, a generation of people who believe they are entitled to the best of everything because that’s what they have been told.
That’s why Yale is offering a course on humility.
But before we who are not necessarily of the current narcissistic generation start shaking our fingers in judgment, humility, or the lack of it, isn’t a new problem. It’s intrinsic to every one of us, although it manifests itself in different ways.
The person who refuses charity from others is just as “unhumble” as the person who believes the world owes him whatever he wants. “Worm theology” — taking pleasure in thinking of yourself as lowly and wretched — is just as unbiblical as thinking too highly of yourself.
They’re both rooted in pride because they’re both me-centric.
As for learning humility from a class, I’m not sure you can. For Christians, I think true humility comes when we believe ourselves to be simultaneously deeply flawed but in Christ dearly loved.
Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
Blessed, happy, spiritually prosperous are those who know their true condition — and they’re true worth. Nothing more and nothing less.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.