‘Humbility’

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Humbility is a made-up word. It either belongs to Mr. Rogers, inveterate in his coining of new offerings for a dictionary, or I just made it up. Humbility sounds like him, and he might have defined it in his kind, Mr. Rogers manner as “the way you are when you’re not acting like you’re better than somebody else.”

I like the word, and I like what might have been a definition of his. And I discovered I needed a little of it after I read a note from a friend and thought about my response to her.
The friend, a poet, recently sent me a website about my favorite poet William Butler Yeats. In the email she wrote, “Col, I know you love him, but are you aware of his fascist sympathies?”

I had to sigh. Yes, I was aware.

Years ago I had read about my favorite poet’s fascist phase. I chose to ignore it. If in fact he leaned far to the right, whether for a part of his life or his entire life, I don’t know. But I decided I couldn’t let his politics interfere with the poems of his that I knew by heart: “Lake Isle of Innisfree” is my hands-down favorite poem. “The Second Coming” is one I like to recite. I even did a major paper on it in college, likening every line to the Catholic Church.

Maybe the poem was and maybe it wasn’t meant to describe the Church; perhaps he was writing about all of Christianity; maybe he was writing about all of Western Civilization; maybe his line about the slow beast slouching toward Bethlehem was really about a slow beast. Whatever his sins of political belief, I refused to be influenced by them or others’ criticism of him or his poems in relation to his life. I would be influenced only by my own opinions and my love of his words.

I wrote back to my friend: “My poet mentor of long ago told me not to pry too far into my hero’s lives, for they all have clay feet.”

This is true of all of us; and the longer we live the more time for each of us to act badly.
Then I got to thinking. I have wondered about why people who voted for Trump can remain devoted to him. Now that Christians and women, for example, have heard more about his life, his morals and values, his ways and means of living that might go against the grain of Christian principles or decency to women, why do they still like him? I did not take into account their simply liking what he says no matter if he means it or if it makes sense. Maybe they like him the way I like Yeats. Trump’s clay feet do not affect them.

Yeats is dead and gone and is not the leader of my country, so his fascist ways, if that’s what they were, are immaterial to me. He does not have to be noble or saintly or even on my side politically to garner my admiration.

I wager it’s the same with Trump fans. Well, at least until something he does or says actually affects them.

I may not like that they continue to like him, but I am humbled by my own ability to know the worst of Mr. Yeats and like him anyway. Can’t I allow this same behavior in them?

I do hope that Mr. Trump’s words and actions and very clay feet do not harm them. Or me.
In the meantime, I will not think so harshly of people who can be just as stubborn as I am. And I will keep the following Mr. Rogers quote on my desk.

“…what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing
views come together and finally respect each other.”
― Fred Rogers —

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