UConn Reads: Seizing the Moment for Humility

A UConn medical student discusses humility – a virtue advocated by many faiths – as a framework for greater understanding among those who disagree.

A woman deep in thought at the top of a mountain. (PeteWill via Getty Images)

A UConn medical student discusses humility – a virtue advocated by many faiths – as a framework for greater understanding among those who disagree. (Getty Images)

Since the election, it has become readily apparent that many people at all points on the political spectrum feel uncertain about the future for various reasons. A recent American Psychological Association survey found that two-thirds of Americans including the majority of both Democrats and Republicans polled reported feeling stressed about the future of the country. However, for a few moments, I want to consider one of the beneficial impacts of the 2016 election: during this time of anxiety and uncertainty, many Huskies are seizing the opportunity to devote renewed energy to understanding and supporting the diversity of our community.

At the UConn School of Medicine, where I am a student, we have organized various events to better understand the diversity of our community and what new bills and presidential orders mean for the University and our patients. Topics have included Executive Order 13769 and the future of the Affordable Care Act. What struck me most about these sessions was not the political views, anger, or sense of betrayal that some students expressed, but rather, the willingness of students and faculty to converse about the issues.

Before entering medical school, I graduated from UConn in the Class of 2014 with a bachelor of arts in religion and a bachelor of science in biological sciences. Studying religion and science simultaneously at a public university with such a diverse student body helped me understand why controversies involving both developed. But when it came time to figure out how to cope with those controversies, I realized how faith can be just as helpful as education, because most faiths provide a framework through which to understand and approach the needs of others: humility. For example, humility in a Christian framework can be summarized by Philippians 2:3, which explains that humility is selflessly considering the needs of others before your own.

In other words, humility means thinking less often about ourselves and more often about others. I will readily admit that humility is a virtue with which I struggled on a regular basis, especially as a medical student; it is tempting to sacrifice humility for efficiency when studying or seeing patients. The best physicians are generally able to balance both virtues. Nevertheless, humility is an important virtue that I think should be revisited in America, since it is through humility that we can learn to appreciate the needs and experiences of others, particularly in times of uncertainty.

An important point to emphasize is that humility does not mean that we should put ourselves down or lessen our own sense of dignity. It does not necessarily mean putting others first to the detriment of our own well-being, nor does it ever mean that we should passively submit ourselves in the face of injustice. Rather, humility helps us hold our own sense of self-importance in check, so that we can be aware of and sensitive to the needs of others.

For me, learning about humility has challenged me to understand things that ordinarily do not impact me directly, such as implicit bias and institutional racism. I can only hope to understand how racism impacts others and the nation as a whole if I approach the question openly and honestly, and by listening more than talking.

Likewise, humility has also helped me understand the climate of the election because it invited me to consider the variety of reasons why Americans voted the way they did and why people across the political spectrum have varying views about the future of our nation. On one hand, humility involves trying to understand why people believe what they do or voted the way they did without attacking them. Yet, on the other, humility also involves advocating for justice by supporting marginalized groups, especially when it does not serve your own interests to do so.

Being humble is a lofty charge, but I think our campus is up for the challenge. In 2017, may we all humbly strive to work with and for each other to spread justice and peace.