Creating New Visions of Humility
I was spiritually drawn to Ruth Nicole Brown’s essay, “Zebulah’s Lesson.” For the author, being on the receiving end of Aunt(ie) Dottie’s acts of generosity was formative to her understanding of humility. Aunt Dottie’s selflessness was not bound by means, space, or even time. When she gifted Brown with money, the amount was not the point. Instead, its value was symbolic and required a Carey kind of comprehension, inherited by those of the same name or lineage. Brown foreshadows that Aunt Dottie’s were not just lessons learned. They were insights into a legacy of Black womanhood, which includes a tendency toward generosity, competence in community building, prowess in thrift, and expertise in creativity. This legacy is one that the author has chosen to accept.
Answering the call to give, to grow, and to create allows one to bloom in a way deserving of an auntie’s love. For the women in Brown’s family, “making house” was an act of love and creativity. Brown herself shows generosity of spirit in a similarly artistic way. In doing so, she rises to the occasion of creation. I believe creativity is the collective destiny of Black people. Whether restricted or boundless, we make regardless. This work requires a recognition of individualism’s limitations, a memory of the triumphs and trials of the past, and a willingness to strategically act in the now. It necessitates humility. In Brown’s creative community, making together is less about what artists can take and more about what they give.
Creative collectives, especially multigeneration collectives, thrive on the reciprocal sharing of knowledge, crafting what I can call combined knowing. In doing so, they take on collaborative epistemology, or what we know and how we know it. Several of the book’s authors cite Socratic humility, often associated with great wisdom amongst philosophers and general communities alike. Socrates took a “we know nothing” approach to humility. Perhaps Socrates’s teaching philosophy was appropriate for his ancient Greek context, to address a society that may have erred on the side of arrogance. It may even remain relevant for our ongoing arrogance, to counter claims of “ultimate truth” and its egregious evil twin “fake news.” But I fear its overuse today.
In our current multicultural and socially stratified society, humility must be reexamined. As a counseling psychology doctoral student, multicultural dialogue instructor, and art-based researcher, my collaborative creative spaces are therapy rooms, classrooms, and remixed research labs. In my experiences in these spaces of creation and transformation, people are most eager to learn when they are challenged with gentle confrontation and when their knowledge is openly valued. If people enter, say, a multicultural dialogue space with an “we all know nothing” attitude, how can they fully participate? If clients came to therapy sessions with this schema, how could they be empowered to move beyond seeking advice and into collaborative critical thinking about their own change process(es)?
These questions become especially relevant for marginalized communities who have been dehumanized and misrepresented by academics. We learn and relearn of the exploitation of indigenous Africans, South Americans, and North Americans in their sincerest moments of humility. I wonder how many of us could have used what we know to protect ourselves, had we known that we knew at all. For this reason, in recognition of the collaborative nature of creativity and the relative nature of truth and knowledge, the “we all know something” approach to humility is appropriate. This also resembles the ethic used by Brown, who welcomes unexpected lessons from her bandmates. This approach is the ethos of the art collective; it’s the heart of creative collaboration. As used by Brown, humility is the foundation of community, where the generosity of shared knowledge and cultural epistemologies can take center stage.
A Public Holistic Response by Morgan Shipley
Nimot Ogunfemi's essay, “Creating New Visions of Humility,” offers both a powerful response to a common philosophical expression of humility as recognizing one's ignorance (of not knowing) as well as a call to understand and engage humility as praxis. Drawing from the author’s inspiration derived from Ruth Nicole Brown's story regarding her Aunt(ie) Dottie, Ogunfemi pushes readers to think more complexly about what humility entails and demands. More than being humble, this points to a constructive and emancipatory orientation that uniquely connects with and works to empower marginalized communities and voices. Predicated not on acquiescing to ignorance or what we “take,” but rather what we give in exuberance, creativity, and selflessness—in other words, the marks we leave—Ogunfemi outlines an ethics of humility capable of recovering socially, politically, and spiritually suppressed contributions while advancing community and a sense of belongingness. Ogunfemi challenges us to recognize the role that humility historically assumes within projects of oppression and compels us to reflect on our own positioning, access to power, and expressions of privilege. Humility thus becomes reflexive and transformative, capable of compelling silence, enhancing enfranchisement, and producing inspiration. As opposed to a virtue that leads people to remain quiet in the face of their perceived unknowing, Ogunfemi helps us recover humility as a means to “protect,” as an ethics of knowing, and as a process for creative and reciprocal sharing. To act with humility, then, becomes both an expression of selflessness à la Aunt(ie) Dottie as well as a method for collaborative undertakings that go beyond mere inclusion to celebrate the creative impulses that for too long have been silenced, both as a response to and a consequence of Socratic humility.