Am I supposed to be meek? Am I meek enough? What does it mean to be meek and what does it suggest about me? For the last several days I have been surrounded by what might best be described as archetypes of the alpha male.
Men with Popeye forearms who hunt, skydive, strip down engines from gigantic motorcycles and build walls using massive power tools. For someone for whom wall-building is an alien craft, this has been both somewhat unsettling and has provoked a few inner thoughts. I watch, hands like violin cases, as structures emerge amidst the piles of dust, with me generally staying out of the way. Mostly, the French artisan is affable, genial and hardworking, but not longsuffering when it comes to his perception of fools. A gentle inquiry as to why the pool filter was positioned above the water surface, instead of 50cm below it as specified in the instruction manual, was met with a terse ‘you read too much’. I smiled and walked away.
A friend has written a little meditation about meekness, which, to use a grunting, masculine metaphor, primed the pump for my own thinking. ‘Meek’ is an old-fashioned, almost derogatory word. It initially suggests spinelessness, docility, conformity, a willingness to give way or even submit by threat of force to the will or opinion of others without good reason (italics mine). The meek are the doormats, trodden on and walked over by the strong. Meek is weak.
When I taught physics, a favourite exam question in material science was to ask the candidate to explain the difference between common terms such as tough or brittle, hard or soft. It’s interesting that the derivation for the word ‘meek’ comes from an Old Norse word meaning ‘soft’, in the sense of ‘compliant’ – not as we might currently use the word - instead, compliant people are easy to deal with, prepared to listen and if necessary compromise, actively choosing not to take offence. An alternative is from the Greek word for a horse that has been properly broken in and is ready for battle (italics again mine). The Book of Mormon – hardly my favourite reference – suggests that the ‘natural man’ is savagely self-seeking, driven by bodily desires which must be ‘put off’, thereby becoming ‘meek’. The meek, we are told, will inherit the earth. There’s reward in there somewhere, although I have enough trouble already with nine acres of wild land here. Taking as natural an interpretation as the Matthian beatitudes suggest, meekness is used there in the sense of poverty or powerlessness. The meek won’t just miraculously dispossess the strong and plunder their goods, but their very attributes of kindness and reasonable behaviour dispose others to think well of them – an absolutely alien concept at the time. Nietzsche believed that this kind of thinking resulted in a slave mentality, and only the strong could be permitted to survive, a philosophy whose application became only too clear a half-century later as Hitler put into practice ideas that Nietzsche only raved about.Now, back to the inconveniently elevated filter. I chose to give way to another’s opinion, despite having evidence that it might be flawed; instead taking the longer view that if it really mattered it could be fixed and the loss of goodwill an argument would have caused would make future interaction more difficult. Does this make me meek, I wonder? No, it certainly doesn’t, but it suggests a willingness to become more so, which might just be all that God asks of me.