Recently I had a chance to meet one of my heroes, a woman by the name of Temple Grandin. Perhaps you have seen the movie that was made about her remarkable life. A successful scientist who happens to be on the autism spectrum, Temple has remarkable humility. She’s also very funny. Here’s what she said when asked whether it would be a good idea to cure autism if we had the capability:
“In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive. After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves.”1
When the movie about her was still in production, she was interviewed by BEEF magazine. (She is, after all, an animal scientist.) I loved what she had to say about the perils of impending fame:
“I have to remind myself not to get a big head. You know what happens. Just look at statues of famous people; they all have pigeon poop on them.”2
When it comes to humility, I am reminded of the phrase “gateway drugs.” Does that sound strange? Here’s the connection. Humility, it would seem, is a kind of “gateway virtue”—the entryway to the rest of the virtues. To use another metaphor, humility provides the soil in which all the virtues can flourish. Sir Thomas More once characterized it as “that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.” The word humble, is, in fact, related to the Latin words humilis and humus, both of which mean “earth.”
Pride, on the other hand, has an unyielding quality to it. It’s like a slab of cement from which nothing grows but weeds that spring up between the cracks.
Scripture links pride to judgment and destruction, while humility is linked to wisdom and favor. If we long for more of God’s shalom, we need to embrace the virtues, especially humility.
1. Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 122.
2. Temple Grandin, “Temple Grandin Talks about Her Upcoming HBO Biopic,” BEEF, October 31, 2008, accessed January 20, 2017, http://beefmagazine.com/cowcalfweekly/1031-temple-grandin-hbo-biopic/.