The potency of an advert, the power of arrogance

While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this advert, it certainly captures some of the  spirit of the Djokovic debacle that has pre-occupied the media, dominated our conversations,  put us in the world spotlight. And I doubt even a MasterCard could provide an elegant end to it all…

While the Federal Circuit Court has decided whether Djokovic can play on the Rod Laver Court; assessed the fine legalities at play, this sorry saga has surely has made us all think about the place of celebrity, status and humility in our society.

It should make us think, or at least reassess, our priorities and especially at a time when we are under such stress and our hospitals at breaking point.

Most Australians are reported to be in support of Djokovic being deported and much of world opinion appears to support this. I suspect for Australians it’s the perceived  arrogance of Djokovic that concerns us most. Whether he is a proven anti-vaxxer or not, his obvious obfuscation of the rules, his granting a one- on -one interview and signing autographs for vulnerable kids when infected, his sense of entitlement of special treatment ( as expressed by his family and the Serbian government),all point to an uncomfortable and unacceptable hubris.

This is notwithstanding that he is, in many ways, a model of stamina and determination, has kindly given to charities and is a religious man who works on himself-he has given a marvellous talk on the value of meditation and self reflection.

 There is however also the responsibility of our government and authorities and their self -importance in dealing with the COVID crisis. The impetuous dropping of almost all restrictions, despite warnings from a wide range of  medical experts, (and the subsequent pressure on our medical system that  they spoke of), smacks of a shameful presumptuousness. Not to mention possibly using Djokovic as a convenient distraction.

It has been said that pride is concerned with who is right, humility with what is right. Humility is probably one of the most difficult of human characteristics to develop. In a culture that encourages us to stand tall and nurture self-esteem, modesty can be seen to be crippling and lacking in value. There is  a thin line between confidence and arrogance but we shouldn’t confuse high self-esteem or self-worth with egocentricity or narcissism. Having a realistic appreciation of our talents and abilities is important. Paradoxically it’s only when we understand our unique qualities or exceptional talents that we can really be humble. That we can see our gifts as an opportunity to reach out and share them with others. The writer CS Lewis put it well when he said humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less .

And this is what I draw from Jewish tradition:

From the very beginning, the Torah or Bible speaks of the value of modesty and the perils of overweening pride. The arrogant pursuit of power is what entices Adam and Eve and undermines the people building the Tower of Babel. When Joseph is appointed viceroy of Egypt he attributed his wisdom and power to God rather than to himself. He is the very opposite of the Pharaohs who see themselves as the great sungods beyond challenge or criticism. Moses, the greatest leader of Israel, is also called the most humble of all people. Moses acted with strength and pride in leading his people but with a quietness and self-effacement in leading and mastering himself. He cared less about himself and more about others. The Talmud suggests that wherever you find a reference to the greatness of God you will find it accompanied by a reference to His humbleness.

One of the lessons of this pandemic, whether you are religious or not, is surely that we human beings should not be too ‘up ourselves’, that we should remember our limitations, that we  take note  of this tiny little virus. It is proving a powerful adversary that pays little attention to our  technology, our achievements, wealth, position or social status.

 During these days of anxiety and uncertainty it’s hard to think of a virtue more helpful for humanity than humility. It’s something we can all practise more in our dealing with others be it in the workplace, at home or on the street. It’s expressed through listening and patience, putting our egos aside and hearing the needs and pain of the other. It’s recognising that ‘self-confidence is important, but with compassion ,humility is greater’.  It’s the master card we can all carry and  is called Modesty!

Wishing you all a healthy, humble week!

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.