Humility and arrogance

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readMay 1, 2019

Source : Google photo of Jimmy Carter carrying his bag

Synopsis : We are remembered positively or negatively or not at all depending on how we have behaved all our life. So what we leave behind does matter to the living who may stop and say a silent prayer over your tomb stone someday and say He was a good man who was so humble , so helpful to others and so kind hearted .

In the deserts of Arabia when you meet a Bedouin, he will greet you with Salam alei kum and offer you water or tea while sitting in the shade of a date palm tree where his camel also gets to drink water and rest. If you are young and need his protection because the desert can be a dangerous place for someone traveling alone, he cannot deny it. His faith prohibits it.

There is a congeniality among them that prevails against all odds and is observed. Their life is harsh because the desert is very unforgiving so they are required to be congenial toward the strangers they sometime meet who may need their help.

They can also be brutal toward their rivals so there exists inter-tribal animosity in some parts that may lead to bloodshed over water source which is not a trivial matter in the desert. You may have seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia and know about some of the desert rules and etiquettes.

I have seen the good nature of people in many parts of the world where the simple people are found to be the most hospitable people on earth who will give you shelter and food if you need and who will come to your help without any strings attached if you need it.

I have also seen this good nature in people in small towns of Algeria where they invited me in seeing that I was getting soaked in rain, dried my clothes and gave me hot coffee and shared their meal with me. I have seen this in very poor farmers there who knowing that I had not eaten the whole day while working with them in their fields put eggs and cheese in the hood of my Arab gown ( called djellaba).I was overwhelmed with their kindness and hospitality everywhere.

During the war in Vietnam when I was working there as a volunteer agronomist, I was often stopped on the road by farmers who would insist that I share their food and drinks with them and they protected me from harm by giving me warning of some impending peril that may have saved my life many times.

So I start to think why some people in some parts of the world are so gentle and nice to strangers while in other parts they are not. What makes those poor Bedouins share their food and water in the desert where such things are so rare? What made those poor Vietnamese farmers share their food and water with me when there was a terrible war going on and the life was so insecure?

If you go to Japan today, you will be overwhelmed by their courtesy and hospitality they will extend to you without even knowing you and a poor taxi driver in Hong Kong invited me to his dwelling in the slum of Sheung Shui to share a meal with me there.

I have seen the goodness of people in Sicily where they showered their hospitality on me and where the kids shed tears when I was leaving and I am still so impressed when a man came out of his house in a small town in California and invited me to share his Thanksgiving meal with his family. I have many such experiences all over the world but I also have some bad experiences in some parts that makes me write this blog today.

In some countries people are nice to strangers because of their faith that teaches them to be so but I think it is more than the faith that makes people congenial and hospitable. I think it is a part of their culture and it naturally varies from country to country.

In some countries people are naturally suspicious of strangers and will ask all sorts of questions before they can decide whether to be nice to you or not which may have something to do with their political system they live under. You will never be received by anyone in North Korea because people there are so afraid of meeting strangers and are required to report them to the authorities while in more open societies where people live under democracy may not behave that way.

But once in Bulgaria during their repressive communist rule, I was well received by the tourist agency late at night in Sophia when they arranged for me to stay with a family and a taxi driver broke all the rules to bring me back to the hotel in Varna where I had forgotten my overcoat and still managed to bring me back to the airport. He drove up to the plane that was ready to taxi out and convinced the pilot to take me on board even if I was so late. Such kindness and hospitality can warm anyone’s heart and make his faith in humanity grow.

Then I go to India where I give gasoline to a scooter driver who had run out of gas. He takes it and starts his scooter without even saying a simple Thank you and rides off. It has happened many times there. Yet India claims to be a country of courtesy and hospitality but perhaps with some strings attached.

So I started to think that the courtesy, congeniality and hospitality to strangers becomes a part of the culture in some countries where their religion plays a great role in it even if their political system is repressive.

In more open societies like in India, you find people who rarely say thank you for the help you give them unhesitatingly although I am sure there are many decent people there.

The good nature in people is always moderated by one sterling quality they all have that is called humility. When the Prime Minister of New Zealand sits next to you in a cramped economy seat in a flight, I call him humble. When the Pope washes the feet of a Muslim girl, I call him humble. When Jimmy Carter carries his own bag, I call him humble but they are very important people who give us all an example of great humility that we should practice but how many of us do?

The padres here in the Philippines make the appeal from their pulpits all the time to be humble, to be compassionate toward the needy and be gentle and be helpful to others but who listens? The avid church goers here are some of the meanest, toughest and nastiest people found anywhere but why is it so?

My wife always keeps bottles of water in the ref for anyone who comes to our gate to their great surprise because here no one gives them water or anything and won’t even open the gate for them unless they know them because people are so mean and paranoid about strangers.

A delivery boy came the other day from a great distance to bring us a package and kept on saying Thank you M’am , God bless you when my wife gave him cold water. He was so dehydrated riding his bike in the heat of the day but then my wife is a very kind woman who extends such courtesy to strangers all the time.

You will find very mean and arrogant people who are paranoid and very suspicious of anyone who greets them just to say hello so they never get to meet their neighbors. They also happen to be very lonely and isolated because of their self-imposed wall that they can’t break down.

So I start to analyze this nature in people and draw some conclusions. I think people who come from poverty and get some education, get a good job and build a nice home, buy a car and live in a fancy gated community become a victim of their material success and become very arrogant. This happens in India and in many countries.

They are also very paranoid as if their hard earned success will slip away somehow through their fingers because believe it or not, it happens to many who lose their homes, cars and other material things because they borrow money to live a lifestyle they can’t afford so the banks take it all away when they fail to pay the mortgage.

A simple farmer does not have much to lose because he is so poor. He will readily offer you food and drinks to show his hospitality. But to say that poverty makes people more friendly, hospitable and congenial towards strangers is to say that the poor people are better than the middle class which may be stretching the truth somewhat. The poor people suffer more from crime and drug addiction, joblessness, low quality of life, poor food and living conditions than the middle class.

The high cost of living, the pressure to live a better life and the social cost of living the way they do makes them more prone to be more cynical, suspicious and afraid of strangers than the most and yet I find the poor people in Algeria and Vietnam were so nice.

So what it comes down to is that inherently the poor people of this world are more humane as you find almost anywhere in Africa who will readily trust you and offer you their hospitality but that changes where they struggle to survive in vast slums that blight almost all the major cities of this world. Their priorities are then determined by the degree of their struggle.

The unfriendly middle class and their paranoia is a symptom of the fragility of their status especially if they live beyond their means and try hard to protect what they have gained. The arrogance and rudeness in them is just an added layer of body armor they put on to hide their low self-esteem and low self-respect.

The poor farmers do not go hungry because they are self-reliant and grow their own food but this is not true in the slum dwellers who have to struggle to earn their bread every day. This constant struggle for survival wears down the values they had when they were farmers.

I appreciate humility in a person that sets him apart from others. Such people are very approachable and are naturally friendly like Jimmy Carter. The power and his position did not go to his head like it does in some politicians these days.

But I do not appreciate the arrogance in anyone no matter who he is and least of all in a monk because by the nature of their vocation, they must always be humble yet we found a monk in Canberra who was so arrogant. We were surprised and disappointed in the monk.

We all are given a chance to leave behind our legacy in this world when we depart it but how many of us leave a positive legacy behind? How many of us stop to think for a minute what others think of us or do we care? Apathy, intolerance, suspicion, arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, religious fanaticism, racism, hateful behavior, paranoia, mistrust of people are all symptoms of a stress related life people live and act accordingly.

So I conclude that I would rather be a poor farmer buried under the shade of an oak tree where people may stop someday and think of me as a good person who gave food to others when he had so little and gave shelter to others in his hut. That is the legacy we should all aim for.

Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

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Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

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Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.