March 15, 2013

In pope's humility, Mainers see trait that resonates

Mainers give their views on humility, a word used often in the first few days of Francis' papacy.

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

It's not just the man but also his manner – humility – that has won Pope Francis such admiration, though he was just elected Wednesday as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and its more than one billion followers.

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Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina leaves after praying at basilica in Rome

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

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In thousands of print and broadcast reports on the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, two words have been repeated: simplicity and humility.

The first attribute might seem fairly straightforward, but the second – humility – is more easily witnessed than explained.

"You can put it into context by looking at its opposite – pride – one of the seven deadly sins," said Chris O'Neil, who was educated by Jesuits at Cheverus High School in Portland.

In his own work as a lobbyist, he sees humility in a slightly modified form. "Humility is one of the cornerstones of what we call 'decorum.' It's a contrivance that forces us to be civil and that forces us to be humble -- in my humble opinion," he said, laughing.

O'Neil wasn't alone in linking humility and civility. Hope Graf, a retired English teacher from Topsham, said she always knows when she is dealing with someone who lacks humility, because their behavior betrays their true disposition.

"They show a lack of courtesy or concern for another person," she said.

"If you like yourself, you're not a bully, you're not a snob," she said. "You like yourself, not in an egotistical way but in a comfortable way. You're not trying to upstage anyone in your spirit, because (others) are regular, regular people just like you."

Or, as the theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

This democracy of heart that is the core of humility for many people was expressed by Bob Crowley of South Portland, a winner of the reality TV show "Survivor."

Interviewed while taking a break from stacking pallets for firewood, Crowley's first question about humility was: "Could you give me the definition?"

"The quality or condition of being modest in opinion or estimate of one's own importance," he was told.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I have been accused of that myself. I know my own faults."

Crowley, who won $1 million – some of which he spent to build a yurt on his property in Durham – for winning "Survivor" in 2008, said lessons in humility have been a part of his life since childhood.

"I was raised by two wonderful people who demonstrated humility all the time -- my mother and my father," he said. "My mother also made it clear to me that I was no better than anyone else, that no one was better than me."

Crowley, who could have good reason to be proud, said he shrugs it off, because other things in his life have meant more to him than winning the "Survivor" title.

Often, people who meet him offer to buy him a drink to celebrate his win, he said. "I find it funny that my 15 minutes of fame is what gets people to buy me a drink, instead of my work as a teacher -- and I am really proud of that."

As a physics teacher at Gorham High School, "I have seen everything," he said.

One of the many things he learned during those years is that some children have humility ingrained in them more than others.

"You can see it in their eyes," Crowley said. "When they perform well, they don't gloat. They're good winners. Even a kindergarten teacher can tell you which kid ... is going to be humble."

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