Formations 03.26.2017: Uber’s Lesson in Humility

Uber Technologies Inc. is an online transportation network company with operations in over 500 cities in sixty-five countries. It is also a company reeling from a spate of recent setbacks including sexual harassment scandals, allegations of a covert operation to avoid regulators in key markets, and a recently leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver.

According to business leader and MSNBC contributor Chris Myers, all of these scandals “seem to stem from a lack of humility.” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky agrees. At a recent luncheon hosted by the Economics Club of New York, he advised any CEO put in a tough leadership position to “take a step back and have some humility.” When people make accusations, he says, rather than becoming defensive, we should first ask, “Is that true?”

The key is self-awareness: a trait that people who behave badly do not usually possess in abundance. This lack of self-awareness can result in aggressive or tone-deaf actions that can damage one’s relationships and the organizations to which such people belong.

To his credit, Kalanick seems to have gotten the hint. He has written apparently sincere apologies and has admitted that he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” If these words are motivated by a genuine sense of self-awareness rather than by political expedience, there is hope that Kalanick—and Uber—may be able to turn things around.

Myers remembers his father, himself a successful businessman, once telling him, “Everybody falls down at some point. Stay humble so that the people around you want to help you up, not knock you back down.”

James could tell us a thing or two about humility and self-awareness. In chapter 4, he explains how conflicts come from disputes, and disputes come from selfish desires. At the heart of it all, James says, “friendship with the world” (v. 4) turns us against God.

How shall we escape from such a state? James says that God favors the humble. Therefore, we must submit to God and resist the devil. This submission may be difficult, however, involving purification, sorrow, and mourning. In the end, however, God will lift up those who humble themselves.

Lauren Thomas, “Airbnb CEO’s Advice to Embattled Leaders: ‘Have Some Humility,’” CNBC.com, 13 Mar 2017 <http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/13/airbnb-ceo-chesky-leadership-advice-humility.html>.

Chris Myers, “Why Humility Is So Important in Life, Leadership and Business,” Forbes.com, 6 Mar 2017 <https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrismyers/2017/03/06/why-humility-is-so-important-in-life-leadership-and-business/#15c8e8d11b81>.

Discussion

• What does humility mean? How is it different from groveling or self-abasement?
• In a world where reality TV and social media are king, what does it mean to practice humility?
• What strengths come from humility?
• How does this passage encourage Christians to gain self-awareness?

Reference Shelf

Not Equal

Though the NT warns that Satan is a continuing danger of which the believer must be wary, it does not suggest that Satan is to be considered equal to God in power, that Satan’s actions deprive men and women of full freedom and responsibility for their actions, or that Satan’s presence alters the affirmation that life is ultimately ordered by a just and loving God. Satan’s presence in the NT forces Christians to take the reality of evil seriously and raises questions for later theological consideration, but it does not change the biblical vision of one God “who is the Savior of all men” (1 Tim 4:10).

David W. Rutledge, “Satan in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 798.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

Here in 4:1-10, James asks and answers the question, Why can’t we just get along? Self-centered desire is the culprit; unfulfilled, it can even lead to murder (4:2a); James lays a similar charge against the unjust landowners in 5:6. James 4:2c (“You do not have, because you do not ask”) reflects various sayings of Jesus on prayer that encourage absolute confidence in God’s affirmative response. James, however perceives that God’s good gifts are conditioned on right asking: God does not give so that those who pray can satisfy their self-centered desires (4:3). Earlier James has cautioned that the double-minded cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord (1:7-8); whereas those who petition in faith are promised wisdom with which to confront their struggles (1:5). God gives “generously and ungrudgingly” to those who are wholly committed to God; God holds back from those fence-straddlers who imagine they can serve God while satisfying their own selfishness.

James labels some among his hearers adulteresses (4:5; NRSV “adulterers”). In James the paramour is the world, that value system that ‘justifies’ one’s self-centered indulgence even when oppression is the means to that end. Some have questioned whether such harsh terms as “adulterers” (4:4) and “sinners” (4:8) can be used for members of the Christian community; James normally addresses his hearers tenderly as “brothers and sisters” or “beloved.” The adultery metaphor, however, is apt precisely for members of the covenant community who are not living up to their covenant commitments, such as offering relief to the oppressed. These covenant insiders are those James accuses of two- timing God.

Christopher Church, “James,” Hebrews–James, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2004), 385.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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