Chutzpah and Humility

“Humility plus chutzpah equals the kind of citizens a democracy needs.” I had never seen these two words used in the same sentence, until I read Parker Palmer’s excellent recent book Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (p. 43).

Parker defines chutzpah as “knowing that I have a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it.” I know a lot of people who have chutzpah to spare.

Parker defines “humility” as “accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all.” I know fewer people, especially those with chutzpah, who give much evidence of such humility.

My experience suggests that it is rare to find a person who exemplifies both chutzpah and humility. In current public discourse, especially in the political realm, I often hear persons who do not hesitate to express their beliefs on the issue at hand with clarity and deep conviction, and I applaud such chutzpah. But seldom do I hear a strong argument for one’s position followed by the words “I could be wrong, what do you think?” Palmer describes this much needed rare combination as follows: “I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to ‘the other,’ as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction,” where by “the other” he means those persons who we would not consider to be of “our own kind” (p. 38).

Through the eyes of faith and hope, I can envision a much improved mode of public discourse, in our churches, schools, and political venues where we create a safe, welcoming space for everyone who has gathered to express their views with clarity and deep conviction, followed by a respectful give-and-take that reflects the honest acknowledgment by each of us that “I could be wrong,” and could therefore learn from the persons who disagree with me.