Lessons in Humility (2)

In the previous article, I started sharing some Lessons in Humility. Here are some more, as they are good medicine for us all, and for leaders in particular.

Experimenting with Homelessness

Some years ago, in France, I was experimenting with homelessness. I had an excellent job, an apartment, and a girlfriend, but I had escaped it all to see what “real life” was like. (Deep inside, there was a longing for something more, something real, something deeper and more meaningful). I needed to feel and experience life with more intensity. I decided to travel to an  unknown city and spend a night out in the street to see what it’s like.

I met other people who were homeless, but they were, unlike me, “really” homeless.

I made a point to not lie to them. I didn’t want to deceive them, but I didn’t want to tell them about my experiment either. So I was evasive in my answers, and fortunately they didn’t ask too challenging questions. Retrospectively, I think they knew, but they were kind enough to accept me as I was, nonjudgmentally.

One of them was so kind, he offered me his foil blanket. He told me that the cops had given it to him (maybe when he was arrested one day).

I inquired about tips, and if they had a sense of where I could stay for the night. I got helpful advice.

As the night approached, I set out for a place that this man had recommended for me. It was a place close to the opera house of that city. I went down a flight of stairs, and set up my camping mat, and my sleeping bag. I took my Maglite and kept it next to me (a nice small metal lamp that could be of use as a good defense in case of an attack – I had bought it years before in Indonesia as I was taking a night train and wanted to prepare for the worst, which never happened).

As I lay down in my duffel bag, I was afraid. A storm of fear-thoughts started invading my mind, and despite my regular meditation practice, I could do nothing to calm them down or let them settle like dust after the wind. The mind-tornado kept blowing:

(Our minds are remarkable when it comes to imagining worse-case scenarios):

What if this was a setup?

What if this man told me to sleep here so he could come and steal all my stuff at night?

What if he comes with other guys and beat they me up? (He had told me that he got beaten up on a bench right next to where I was trying to sleep not long ago. That inspired some of these ideas.)

I started to imagine if all my stuff got stolen, including my tent (which I did not need), or what my girlfriend would say when I returned with a bloody nose and a black eye after a weekend away. (None of that ever happened, except as thoughts in my mind).

I tried to breathe, I tried to calm myself down.

I couldn’t. Nothing worked. The mind storm was too powerful.

I was trying to discern between whether they were legitimate fears (like when you are coming too close to the edge of a mountain and your inner guidance tells you to back up a little to keep you safe), versus imagined fears (like when you about to speak in public and you are afraid of being ridiculed, of saying the wrong thing, and so on).

I didn’t want to risk getting beaten up or robbed.

I thought that if something happened to me, I would later regret not quitting this stupid (that was my mind judging again) experiment.

I finally decided to quit. (Yes, sometimes it’s the best thing you can do. Read more here.)

I packed my stuff in the middle of the night, and went to a hotel with automatic registration. I paid the 70€ and was let in. In that moment, I was so grateful I had money in my bank account to pay for the room and get me out of this challenging situation I had created for myself. I blessed the room I was in, and enjoyed the warm shower as well as sleeping in late, (like, till 8am!). I had breakfast, and was out exploring the city again the next day, before returning to my “normal” life.

Lesson in humility.

The Ethical Code of Hobos

Another man in San Francisco, also a homeless person, told me recently that he chose this lifestyle. He slept on the beach the night before. He had helped out a younger person on the road, played music, had a dog. In many ways, he was a true hobo.

Hobos actually have an ethical code, which is very interesting inspiration (source):

  1. Decide your own life; don’t let another person run or rule you.
  2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
  3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hoboes.
  4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
  5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
  6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hoboes.
  7. When jungling in town, respect handouts and do not wear them out; another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.
  8. Always respect nature; do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
  9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
  10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
  11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully. Take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad; act like an extra crew member.
  12. Do not cause problems in a train yard; another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
  13. Do not allow other hoboes to molest children; expose all molesters to authorities – they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
  14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
  15. Help your fellow hoboes whenever and wherever needed; you may need their help someday.
  16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

Lesson of humility.

How about you, what were some of your lessons of humility?

What did you learn?

How do you know when you need to be more humble?

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