A ‘humble’ beginning

FI-Joe-PisaniEver since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope, I’ve been reading about his “humility.”

I’ve read about how he cooks his own meals, takes public transportation, pays his own bills, carries his own luggage,  relates to the working man, and dresses simply, or as simply as a guy with all those robes can dress, which means to say he doesn’t shop at Neiman Marcus.

What this tells me is I could have been pope. Well, maybe if they considered outside candidates and if growing up in a place called Pine Rock Park didn’t disqualify me. After all, I am Italian.

But don’t I meet some of these new qualifications? I take public transportation. I carry my own bags and I come from a long line of working men. However, I do still have problems cooking my own meals and do it only under great duress. I’m more inclined to head to McDonald’s for a crispy chicken sandwich or Subway for an Italian combo (hold the jalapeños, please). And to tell the truth, I don’t pay my own bills because I can’t balance a checkbook and also because my wife hid my credit cards.

Every day, there’s some new tidbit about the pope’s humility, which makes me wonder how he feels being singled out by the media for doing what comes naturally, untainted by papal pomp and circumstance or the oldest of sins, pride.

Sooner or later, I’m afraid, there’s going to be a slip-up, and we’ll see a taunting headline that screams: “Vatican scandal! Pope lets door slam in nun’s face!”

Really humble people, whether they’re popes, princes, professors, or train conductors, go about their lives one day at a time, trying to do the right thing and avoiding fanfare.

For a few lucky ones, humility comes naturally. For the rest of us, it’s an ordeal and we’re constantly looking to see if someone notices our good deeds and our meager successes. Deep down, we all want praise, but unfortunately there are some people addicted to it.

Humility is rare among the powerful and famous, whether they’re in the Vatican, the White House or in the corporate offices of JPMorgan Chase or NBC studios.

I’ve never seen a humble celebrity, although there may very well be one hiding in the bushes. In their glitzy world, self-promotion and self-obsession are part of the job description. Let’s put it this way, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan are propelled by narcissism. It’s like a mega-vitamin for their egos, and they crave attention — even if it’s negative attention.

On the other hand, humility is an anachronistic concept. It’s a vestige of the Middle Ages, and as a result, we become perplexed when we encounter a man of authority and stature who strives to be humble and simple.

In modern America, we associate humility with weakness. To us, the humble are ineffectual and they’d never be able to swim with the sharks because they’re more likely to be swimming with the guppies.

But humility isn’t a weakness. In fact, it’s a strength, particularly in a society characterized by self-aggrandizement where the pursuit of riches and renown leads to lapses in moral judgment. It’s a society where we’d rather be served than serve, a society where we exalt the powerful and the prestigious, not the meek and the lowly.

Someday, they say, the meek shall inherit the earth, and if Jesus was right when he said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” we’re in big trouble.


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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