I have a complicated relationship with humility. I suspect we all do. On the one hand, I like people who are humble about their achievements; who do what they do for the sake of doing it, and not for any public acclamation that might accompany it. On the other hand, I’m a writer and a public speaker by trade so my job involves sounding confident in front of other people. If I don’t believe in my own voice and my own ideas, I’m up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The irony of writing about humility in a blog post is not lost on me. I am hardly one to talk about how people should or shouldn’t get attention, since the word ‘buggers’ features in the title of some of my books, and I tend towards sweary in person.
If you want lots of press, it is useful say things that are controversial. Getting people to disagree with you pretty much ensures great coverage. It is also a good idea to point out your achievements – to say how great you are doing and how many wonderful things you have done. Unless you are the Pope there is no story, really, in humility. But the danger is that you can end up becoming that person who spams other people with your genius all the time. “Look at how I am changing the world,” you want to say, “see what a difference I have made!” Or that you fall so in love with your belief that everything you say and do is right that you think people need to hear about it more than they might want to. Both teachers and writers are prone to this fault, because in both jobs you can actually make a difference to your world. Although let’s be honest, the same could be said for many jobs – doctors, care workers, plumbers. If your pipe bursts in the cold weather, there’s only one person you want to turn up at your door.
There are a lot of angry people in the world at the moment. To be honest, I’m one of them. I look at the political situation in our country and all I can do is despair. It is easy to get infected by the idea that he who shouts loudest will win the race; that those who are humble will be lost. But the danger is that we all end up standing in different corners of a room, shouting at each other but never finding any common ground. So I can only think that maybe the best way for me to learn and to grow is not to take a position that I am right and that everybody else is wrong – that I have ‘the truth’ or ‘the answer’ and if only everyone listened to me and did what I said then everything would be fine. Maybe the best way for me to learn and to grow is to accept that I don’t know everything and that I can’t change the world, but that if I keep my head down and I focus, I might just be able to make a difference to my tiny corner of it.
I’ve been planting lots of seeds over the last couple of weeks. At this time of year it’s an act of hopelessly optimistic faith (some might even say madness) to get the propagator going, especially when 5-10 centimetres of snow are forecast overnight. But what the hell, while all around you chaos reigns, when the news is filled with politicians hating on each other, and hopeless attempts at resolving the mess the UK is in, you have to have something to look forward to and to give you hope. My tiny seedlings are popping their heads above the compost, fooled by the warmth into germinating earlier than is sensible. I will nurture them, turning them daily so that they don’t get leggy, keeping them warm until they are ready to brave the cold greenhouse, then get potted on and eventually put outdoors. Because one day, the sun will rise warm and bold and the cold hard times might even be over. And I will be ready to plant them out and in time I should hopefully get to crop them. And as I do I will whisper to myself as humbly as I can, “Yes, it was me, who grew this.”