The Virgin airlines 747 pilot who this week had to make an emergency landing said he was just doing his job and had expressed a preference not to be named. When reporting this fact, one radio presenter commented in a tone of admiration that he was also “obviously a very humble man.” Jack Kyle who was named Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player and who passed away recently was also recognised as a very humble man. His natural ability, which he fully recognised was not due to his own efforts, brought him success on the rugby field and pleasure to many who watched him play. However his genuine humility about his achievements in rugby and in the rest of his career away from the spotlight received more attention in the tributes which followed his death.
Contrast the attitude of these two men with those of former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell and former minister David Mellor. Mitchell’s moment of arrogant behaviour and foul language over not being allowed to take his bicycle out of the main gates of Downing Street when there was a perfectly reasonable side gate option open to him, betrayed an attitude that soon led to his downfall. On the way he damaged the reputation of an innocent policeman carrying out vital security duties. Mellor was secretly recorded swearing at a London taxi driver and arguing about the best route to take. In a moment of arrogance he said “…you think that your experiences are anything compared to mine? “To be fair to Mellor he later apologised for his outburst saying he could not understand what made him “lose it with that cabbie” and that he was “really, really sorry” about the way he had spoken.
Humility and arrogance – one an attractive quality but so elusive (a senior work colleague once remarked to me that as soon as you think you are being humble you have lost it) and the other an ugly quality which is so easy to slip in to when success comes our way. While all of us are vulnerable from time to time to arrogant thinking, people in public life are particularly so – which is one very good reason why we should pray for them. Those in authority are given special mention by the apostle Paul from among the “all people…” for whom he encourages Timothy to pray (1 Tim 2:1-3). There are many reasons why we should pray for those in authority but the risks of power corrupting are so ever-present to anyone in a position of leadership, wherever they exercise that leadership, that prayer for a humble spirit and an attitude of serving must be included.
Arrogant attitudes have also been evident from remarks which have recently escaped from the lips of local political leaders too. Posturing for votes of our own group is understandable but robust defence of genuinely held views does not have to be arrogant. To aspire to serve is a noble thing but it is so easily sullied by the temptations which arise from power or the prospect of power. So particularly as our politicians enter a year of elections let us pray – and hope – for humility in the hustings. Whatever else, we can be sure that wherever this might happen the will of God will have been done “…as it is in heaven.”
Noel McCune is Chairperson of Contemporary Christianity.