Humility blasts arrogance

The writer is a member of the United Church of God and professor of computer information systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Baker, in a landmark address, spoke before the assembled general conference of elders of the United Church of God in May 2000 in Fort Mitchell, Ky., on the subject of "servant leadership." (See "Church Member Says UCG Elders Must Lead as Servants," The Journal, May 31, 2000.)

By J. Howard Baker

HAWKINS, Texas--Since the beginning of the year I have written several articles for a free Web-based leadership magazine called WeLEAD ( My most recent article, which appeared in the April issue, is "New Wine In Old Wineskins" and deals with organizations that attempt to adopt servant-leadership practices without changing from a coercive bureaucratic culture to a more empowering and entrepreneurial culture.

I have observed this problem in various types of organizations including higher education, government, ministries and business.

After the issue came out I received some positive E-mail messages. One who wrote me identified herself as a Church of God member. She signed her message: "YSIC, Linda."

When I wrote back to her, I in turn signed my message: "YSIC, Howard."

She wrote back and said I had given her a big chuckle because those four letters stand for "Your sister in Christ."

Then I had a good laugh. Since I had been writing about servant leadership, I interpreted YSIC to stand for "Your servant in Christ." In my worldview YSIC obviously stood for that.

Meaning of the mind

This incident involving our interpretation of "YSIC" points out an interesting point: The meaning of what we see is in us, not in the thing itself. We all interpret what we see and hear all the time. To me "YSIC" meant one thing, but to her it meant a different thing. Yet we were both looking at the same four letters.

A person familiar with Spanish knows that casa means house. To a person not familiar with Spanish, casa would have no meaning. The meaning is in the person's mind, not in the word. If the meaning does not reside within me, I can go to a dictionary and place the meaning in my mind.

While I was working toward my Ph.D., my doctoral-committee chairman introduced me to a landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. It was from this book that I learned about paradigms.

The word paradigm comes from the Greek and means a model, theory, perception, assumption or frame of reference. It is the way we see the world. Our paradigms are like a pair of glasses. Everything we see is through those lenses. We get so used to our glasses we forget they are on.

I am sure you have heard about the person who looked all over the house for his glasses, then someone pointed out that he was wearing them. We get so used to our paradigms that we forget we are interpreting everything we see through them all the time.

There are two basic categories of paradigms, or mental maps. One is "the way things are" paradigms. We call these the "realities." The other is "the way things ought to be" paradigms. We call these the "values."

Mental maps

The way we perceive, understand and interpret our experiences is based on our paradigms. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it quite differently. That is because they interpret the same thing using entirely different paradigms or mental maps.

We interpret what we see and hear through our paradigms. Most people are unaware they are doing this. To them what they see is not an interpretation, it is just the way things are. It is reality. But, like beauty, reality is in the eye of the beholder. One person sees the glass as half full, another sees it as half empty.

Our minds constantly interpret reality. We think we see the world as it really is, that we are objective. We rarely question our own paradigms. When others see things differently, our tendency is to immediately think they are wrong.

Of course, there are facts and absolute truth. But no fact or scripture is ever examined except through our paradigms. That is why there can be so many interpretations of the same Bible.

That is how Linda can read my E-mail message and interpret "YSIC" one way and I can interpret it quite another way.

I collect elephants--not real ones, but toys, dolls and such. I do this because my favorite poem is about the six blind men and the elephant.

The trunk of the elephant

Each blind man in the verse touched a different part of an elephant with his hands, trying to "see" what an elephant is like. Since each touched a different part of the elephant, each saw the elephant differently.

The blind man feeling the trunk thought the elephant was like a snake. The one feeling the leg thought the elephant was like a tree. The one feeling the side thought it was like a wall. The one feeling the ear thought it was like a large fan. The one feeling the tail thought it was like a rope. The one feeling the tusk thought an elephant was like a sword.

The issue demonstrated by this poem is that each blind man was correct, but the perception of each was incomplete.

In the poem each of the six blind men knew he was right. Each had actually touched the elephant. Each man's senses did not lie. Therefore all the other descriptions of the elephant must be wrong.

The poem then describes the six men arguing endlessly with each other about what an elephant is like. They didn't listen to each other. They didn't respect the other person's perspective. They sought to be understood, not to understand.

Each was convinced he was right. Therefore no one discovered what an elephant is really like. Lacking respect for the other men's perspective, they could not integrate they had learned into a single, more complete concept of an elephant that each could benefit from.

It is only when we listen to each other and respect each other's perspectives that the true picture of an elephant emerges. Then we discover that "YSIC" can mean more than one thing. I discovered from Linda that "YSIC" can mean two entirely different things. She discovered the same thing from our interaction. What else might "YSIC" mean that neither of us has yet encountered?

We are incomplete creatures thinking we see things the way things really are. We are too much like blind men trying to describe an elephant.

This happens inside organizations as well as between organizations. We tend to pay far too much attention to what our minds think is going on and far too little to what is really going on. The only thing that can free us from our interpreting mind is real truth. However, truth is a threat to the security of the carnal, interpreting mind.

What do you know?

Do you know you are right and know all others are inferior or wrong? Does that make you feel secure? We are emotional creatures who want to believe we are rational creatures.

Often those who talk the most about having an open mind and seeking truth are the worst. They are proud of their openness and truth-seeking. Their pride closes their mind, and--ironically--they remain terribly incomplete.

If you just read the last paragraph and immediately thought of someone else, that precise thought is your interpreting mind trying to feel good about itself and avoiding the hurt of reality. We have met the enemy, and it is us!

Could it be we are all incomplete and are missing out on what a real elephant is like?

Is there a connection between God being the most humble being in the universe and His seeing reality as it really is? Arrogance blinds! The Pharisees were blind. They were also arrogant and were like their father the devil and his kingdom of darkness.

Arrogance crushes creativity. As an organization's culture burns out, its leaders are often the most arrogant and the least creative members. They tend to cling to old and worn-out methods that worked in the past. Their memories of the old methods provide them with a false sense of security. They reject those who are willing to integrate views from many sources and see the reality of the failing culture.

What we need is a big dose of humility. That is the antidote to arrogance. We need to learn to listen with respect and be swift to hear, slow to speak.

We may not always agree, but we should always allow the other person dignity and respect. That is the path to true light and unity.

Christ is the light of the world. When He returns and brings this dark world true light, there will be unity. Until then we--each of us individually--must realize we are the enemy of unity and peace and take appropriate measures to change.

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