Haughtiness and Humility

You should rarely need to tell someone you are good. BE good. DO good. And if you ARE good, others will tell YOU and THAT IS good!

That is one of my core beliefs, but it has not always been. I came to it after years of philosophical evolution.

My High School & College Strategy: “Compete to Beat” the Competition

My high school band director was all about competition….and he was good at it. For the two of my high school years that he was the director, we never, ever lost a contest. His tactics were brutal and the intensity extreme, but the results were, in my opinion, worth it.

This video is from an old, worn film ….so both sound and video are inconsistent in spots, but watch the perfection of the lines, primary diagonals, secondary diagonals….. Those of you who know how difficult it is to maintain intervals will appreciate how difficult this drill actually was. In its day, for the style that it used, the Holmes Band was unbeatable.

My high school clarinet teacher also taught me to compete. He taught the 1st chair clarinetists from Holmes, Simon Kenton (the school where he was band director) and Campbell County High Schools. These were all quality band programs in adjacent counties. Senior year, he gave the three of us the same solo to take to Solo & Ensemble Contest. We had each worked to be the best in our schools. Who was going to be the “best” of the best? The pressure was intense.

On contest day, each time one of the three of us performed, the room was overflowed with those in support and in opposition. I was the third to go. The other two had already each received their Superior rating. As it turned out, so did I, except on my sheet, the judge wrote a “I+”. At the end of my performance, he (the judge) stood up and applauded. He called me over and said something along the lines of, “You should always perform in such a way to make them (the audience) stand up.”

I was taught to go for first chair, go for the Superior rating, go for the most medals, go for the standing ovation…. I was taught to pay the price and to go full force all the time. I believed in and implemented that strategy without hesitation or reservation.

Throughout college when it came time to audition for student conductor, for solo positions in the orchestra, or for the concerto competition, I went for it. And I hope it is not haughty to say that I was good at controlling the audience. My senior recital was in the concert hall rather than the recital hall because of the anticipated audience…..and yes, they did stand.

I was fortunate in not having to play the job search game. I did not create a resume and did not apply for any positions. I was called by a high school principal based on a recommendation from the Director of Camp Crescendo, where I had worked as a sectional and field instructor. I had only one interview and that first teaching job was finalized four days prior to college graduation.

The First Band Directing Years

The year prior to my first year of teaching, there was a band about 20 or so miles down the road that achieved 1st Place in Class B at State. We were a Class C school, so we wouldn’t be on the same playing field. But I used that band as a motivation to my band. I started asking for the answer to the question, “Who’s gonna beat Charlestown?” We didn’t beat them anywhere that first year, but we DID the second year. That’s when my question changed to, “Who’s gonna win State?”

What I failed to teach was respect and admiration for other bands. They were all competitors and we were all about beating them. That worked, but it was not correct. It is still my instinct, but I suppress it more.

Haughtiness and Humility

As I became a better student of the Bible and sat through many sermons, I started feeling hammered with some of the following: (Emphasis added in the following)

  • But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6
  • Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5
  • But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. – Luke 22:26
  • And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:24
  • Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling. – Proverbs 16:18

What about that “compete to beat” stuff? What about that “blow ’em away” mentality I had learned and developed? What about the “with pride” band chants and even being proud of what you do?

The conflict between trying to understand and comply with the scriptural instructions for humility, and failing to grasp what, if anything that had to do with how to perform, I stopped performing. I put my clarinet away and didn’t play it at all for a few years. Of course, there are also these verses:

  • Holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:16
  • Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 1 Cor 9:24
  • Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, – Col 3:23

Seems like quite the conflict. As we watch all those reality shows where people are in the “game” to “win the prize” (not sure that’s what Paul meant) by scheming and lying, are they justified? Does the end justify the means? No.

Watch “The Apprentice” and you see the corporate world mentality of how success works. Nope. That world is not for me.

Ahhhh, but in the sales world, your very source of income is based on your ability to help someone agree with your idea of what is best for them and that often includes beating out the competition. Oh, the conflict of my music performance days was spilling into my business world.

And, of course, it continues in the world of education. Meeting standards is good, but what about the competitive nature of all that we do within education? Is my band better than your band? Let’s have competitions and independent judges make the call. Let’s go to concert festivals where we are rated? Solo and Ensemble festivals do the same thing.

There is more “support the other band” mentality in today’s competitive climate than the one I grew up and started out in.

So, how does one “strive for excellence” without violating the humility mandates of the Bible?

Some semi-conclusions, or what works for me at this time….

I think I’m okay on the haughtiness point. Haughtiness suggests arrogant and I don’t think I’ve ever been arrogant. But I am prideful. I want to take pride in what I am doing. How can that be so wrong? Perhaps part of the solution is a healthy attitude of what pride is. If pride is saying, “Look what I did.”, then I see that as a fault. On the other hand, if God has given a talent and you use that talent and give Him the credit, then I don’t believe you are violating the pride condemned in the Bible. I must admit that I still struggle in this are because there is still some conflict, in my mind.

Input I’ve received from some centers on the “as for the Lord” part of the verse above. That helps.

“You should rarely have to tell someone you are good…..” non-haughtiness

“BE Good, DO Good…..” You are doing your best, as we are encouraged.

“….and if you ARE Good, Others will tell YOU.” Do well what you do and others will recognize your success.

“…and THAT IS GOOD.”


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