It has become somewhat of an art for me, that of studying Southern culture and deciphering what makes us different from others as well as downright peculiar among ourselves.
One thing I have found to be mostly true, as true as any rule can be, is in the South, you are either proud or humble. There is very little in-between.
My people, those of the poverty-ridden Appalachians, fall into the humble category, an attitude both chosen as well as learned and devoutly practiced for many generations. For those who stay in the mountains, it is passed down like an heirloom of a cast-iron skillet or an ancient plow.
“He’s so humble,” said my cousin, educated well in the science of biology which has made her a high-paid executive, about someone the other day.
She is from the mountains and, though really “book smart” as our people would say, she pronounced it “umble,” dropping the “h” as mountain folks do. I smiled for it is soothing to my ears to hear such words spoken as Mama and Daddy used to say them.
But humbleness — they never knew the word “humility” — can bite your hand off and steal the food from a baby’s mouth.
One to another, many of my ancestors said, “The good book says ‘pride goeth before destruction.’”
So that’s that. Enough said. If the good book warns against it, they intent themselves on following it.
But what I have come to learn, though it has taken a few decades, is humility, while noble, can be as destructive as pride. In its own way, it will kill you, set you back or just plain hold you back.
You see, lots of my beloved people believed whatever life gave you is what you got. You took hold of what you got, held on firm and prayed that what you got didn’t get gone.
“Until I saw what my children could do, it never occurred to me that simple people could go out and have big lives,” Mama said once. “I just always was of the mind that you took what the good Lord gave you and worked hard to do your best with that.”
Now, I wouldn’t want to call Mama a liar or hint that the truth wasn’t in her, but she and Daddy built a small footbridge between humility and pride. They didn’t stay in those mountains. They didn’t accept that life. They individually left and sought a better life and found it. When their lives ended, they owned property and had a modest sum of money in the bank. In short, they didn’t settle.
Don’t get me wrong, though. There was still a lot of humbleness in those two. You heard in Daddy’s quivering voice when he dropped to his knees to pray and saw it in the calluses on his hands. I was taught warm shelter, good food and enough dollars to pay the taxes were blessings that went over and beyond what we deserved. No one overreached or overstepped. We were to stay where God put us.
That kind of thinking seeps deep into the marrow of one’s bones and holds one captive.
A few times over the years, I have pulled myself up short and stopped just past something wonderful. I refused to step closer to downright spectacular because I would say, “This is far more than I deserve. I am so blessed.” Like my people, I rarely considered myself “worthy” of anything great.
But lately, I pondered on the limits that our self-imposed humility has wrought on us and how it has held us captive.
This is what come to me: Too much humility produces some form of pride and the longer you hold onto it, the prouder you become.
That’s not a good thing, either.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.