Musings on the news, or Learning humility from the Queen

The Queen of England seems to have had a pretty successful trip to Ireland, the first of any British monarch to the island in the last hundred years. The visit was soaked with symbolism. She arrived wearing emerald green, and her very first stop was to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, honoring those who died in the armed struggle for Irish independence from Great Britain in 1921. As Nicholas Witchell says, it was the subsequent bow of her head that meant the most:

“It was a bow of the head from the grand-daughter of the last King of Ireland which said that Britain fully accepts your country’s right to freedom, and respects those who set out to achieve it.”

Memorable moments filled her visit, including beginning a speech in Irish (stunning Irish president McAleese), visiting a Guinness brewery, and extending “deep sympathy” for things which, “with the benefit of historical hindsight . . . we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”

Queen Elizabeth’s visit worked because each of these gestures on her part had greater import. They said, I respect you and the symbols that are important to you, even if I don’t share them. They said, I acknowledge your right to freedom and I recognize your human dignity. They said, I am willing to give much thought to my words before speaking them.

Journalist Fintan O’Toole thinks the Irish people were most impressed by the Queen’s demeanor of humility and generosity, which shifted a longstanding dynamic of British acting superior and Irish responding to that superiority with defensive anger.

Boy, did that strike a chord! How often, especially when we don’t have lots of time to prepare, and staff to help us craft our remarks (and practice our pronunciation), do we relate to each other precisely in this superior “I’m in the right” manner?

In the May 17th issue of Christian Century, Peter Marty asks, “Have you noticed how love always takes a backseat when self-righteousness is behind the wheel?” He argues that when we are “convinced that God dislikes the exact same people and things [we] do,” we become “overconfident drivers” who will “mow down anything that gets in the way of [our] personal possession of the truth.”

Is it possible to come from a different place? To believe that rightness (or righteousness) come not from holding the correct belief, but from a correct way of relating to others? To take seriously the words from the 1960s hymn, “We will guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride?”

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