Humility Summary & Exercise
The essay Humility is written by a renowned essayist of Jerusalem, Yuval Yuval Noah Harari. In this essay, he exemplifies the virtue of humility in that he debunks humanity’s illusions of superiority and mastery. He claims morality, art, spirituality and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA.
Summary of Humility
In this essay, the essayist exemplifies the virtue of humility, which can be defined as “a recognition of the real limits of our techno-social knowledge and ability”, in that he debunks humanity’s illusions of superiority and mastery. Harari tells us that humility is a quality that most cultures lack. Most people tend to believe that they are the centre of the world and their culture is the linchpin of human history.
Greeks believe that history began with Homer, Sophocles and Plato and that all-important ideas and inventions were born in Athens, Sparta, Alexandria or Constantinople. There are Indians that believe that the invention of aeroplanes and nuclear bombs were invented by ancient sages in the Indian subcontinent long before Confucius or Plato, not to mention Einstein and the Wright brothers.
The Jews believe that monotheism should be credited to them and that they are a significant group in the world – the top three religions. But there are only 15 million Jews and there is no reason to think that they should be considered more important than the Hindu religion which has far more followers. Each group believes itself to be the centre of the universe and the inventor of the most important philosophies and contributions.
But no group is truly unique – some form of their philosophy and beliefs has existed before them. The religions that survived are those that were the most violent – they managed to convert the largest number of populations to their belief. For example, the Biblical phrase that Jews take credit for “love thy neighbour as thyself” has appeared before in China.
Similarly, monotheism can be traced back to Egypt and is not originally Jewish. Monotheism has contributed to catastrophise in the world and one should not be proud of having invented it. Christianity a few centuries after its inception banned all religions except for the Jewish religion although many Jews were still persecuted, while Islam today considers all history prior to Mohammed to be irrelevant.
The Chinese nationalists believe that many great ideas originated in their culture. The Jews believe that they are the chosen people and that the gentiles are not equal to them in importance according to God. While some sages have called for religious tolerance, the prevailing trend throughout history has always been to persecute those who have different beliefs. And this is ironically the same self-centeredness that most religions have warned against.
About the Author
Prof. Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, philosopher, and the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, and Sapiens: A Graphic History. He is a Co-founder of Sapienship, a multidisciplinary organization advocating for global responsibility whose mission is to clarify the public conversation, support the quest for solutions and focus attention on the most important challenges facing the world today. He is now a lecturer in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Understanding the text Humility
a. Describe the claim of the Chinese nationalists about human society.
Answer: Chinese nationalists claim that history really began with the Yellow Emperor and the Xia and Shang dynasties and that whatever Westerners, Muslims or Indians achieved is but a pale copy of original Chinese breakthroughs.
b. What do pious Muslims believe about human society?
Answer: Pious Muslims believe that all history prior to the Prophet Muhammad is largely irrelevant, and they consider all history after the revelation of the Quran to revolve around the Muslim ummah.
c. What did the Aztecs firmly believe about the universe?
Answer: The Aztecs firmly believed that without the sacrifices they performed each year, the sun would not rise and the entire universe would disintegrate.
d. What, according to the essay are the universal human abilities?
Answer: According to the essay, morality, art, spirituality, and creativity are universal human abilities.
e. How are the basic yoga postures derived from the shape of letters of the Hebrew alphabet?
Answer: All the basic postures of Yoga are derived from the shape of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Trikonasana posture imitates the shape of the Hebrew letter ‘aleph’, Tuladandasana imitates the letter ‘daled’ etc.
Reference to the Context
a. How do Hindu nationalists refute the Chinese claim that human history really began with the Yellow Emperor and the Xia Dynasties? Who do you agree with and why?
Answer: Hindu nationalists refute the Chinese claim by saying that aeroplanes and nuclear bombs were invented by ancient sages in the Indian sub-continent long before Confucius, Plato, Einstein and Wright brothers. I agree with the Hindu nationalists because Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world.
b. The author has dealt with a controversial debate on history. Why do you think history has been a major contested issue in the present world?
Answer: Due to egoism, most people think they are the centre of the world and their culture is superior to all other cultures. They think their history is the oldest one and everything derived/originated from their culture. History has been a major contested issue in the present world due to egoism. The author wants to debunk humanity's illusion of superiority and mastery.
B. The author claims, “Since it is more polite to criticize one’s own people than to criticize foreigners.” Do you agree to his claim? Give your reasons.
➜ Harari claims in his essay "Humility" that it is more polite to criticise one's own people than foreigners. I agree with his statement since criticising outsiders cause tension. People are extremely preoccupied with their own history and civilization. They do not like to hear somebody from another faith or group criticise their own religion or community. We accept without question what is stated or published about our culture, religion, and civilization. What fools believe that the existence of the cosmos is dependent on human sacrifice and the study of sacred writings. No one knows how long this universe has been, and it is just egotism to claim that human sacrifice and the reading of religious text save the cosmos from being demolished. If ancient sages had invented missiles and rockets, humans may have landed on the moon thousands of years ago. If we oppose such things and we are foreigners, it will lead to a conflict between two groups of people. If we wish to fix ourselves, we must first identify the flaws in our culture. This is totally acceptable and regarded as human behaviour.