How Does Humility Respond to Inequality?
First, simply recognizing inequity does not guarantee that we are engaging our resources with humility. It’s entirely possible that the same pride that blinds us to our privilege can lead us to feeling guilty about it. We know that we don’t deserve more than another person, but we also know that we have more than another person. And so in an attempt to deal with this guilt, we can pursue a form of asceticism, all while keeping ourselves at the center of the conversation.
We may abdicate positions of power, give away extra material goods, and move into smaller homes. But if we do it out of guilt (and make sure to broadcast our sacrifices loudly enough), our experience of the world is still the driving force. And we miss the fact that even the ability to embrace a minimalist lifestyle is based in abundance. As award-winning writer David Brooks observes,
One of the troublesome things about today’s simplicity movements is that they are often just alternate forms of consumption . . . Early in life you choose your identity by getting things. But later in an affluent life you discover or update your identity by throwing away what is no longer useful, true and beautiful.
In other words, because we have access to so many resources, we have the luxury of throwing them away without a second thought.
There are, of course, many legitimate reasons to pursue simplicity, including the desire to move through the world less encumbered and to promote ethical consumption. But pursuing simplicity itself does not necessarily make us humble or grateful people. Sometimes all simplicity does is mask our pride and self-dependence. If we take a great deal of satisfaction in how little we need, in how much we reject abundance, simplicity becomes nothing more than an asceticism that, as theologian J. I. Packer puts it, is “too proud to enjoy the enjoyable.”
Instead of rejecting our resources, humility teaches us to receive them as gifts and to use them for God’s glory and the good of those around us.