Obama Sets Humble, Open Tone For White House

Freshly sworn-in President Barack Obama exuded an easy self-confidence during his inauguration Tuesday. He spoke, as he often does, of "humble gratitude," the "spirit of service" and "a willingness to find meaning in something greater" than ourselves.

It's been a while since the leader of the free world so publicly kept his ego in check, backing away from self-promotion and puffed-uppedness. But this is the man, after all, who once referred to himself as a mutt.

He has a knack for humility, not always easy to pull off.

After the ceremony, Everett L. Worthington Jr., a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Humility: The Quiet Virtue, says, "President Obama certainly comes across as a humble man."

And Worthington said Obama's speech evoked a couple of quotes:

The first is from William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s. "Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all."

The second, from Charles de Montesquieu, an early 18th century French politician and philosopher: "To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them."

A Level Of Openness

The new president's approach to problem-solving is unusual in politics, says Edward Carmines, a political science professor at Indiana University. Carmines says he, too, has observed Obama's humility.

"All through the days leading up to the inauguration, I have been impressed with the way Obama has dealt with the economic crisis," Carmines says. "I think it's indicative of how he's going to approach other challenges — foreign policy and domestic."

Obama "identifies the nature of a problem, but he is very open when it comes to how to deal with it," Carmines says. "He has his own ideas and he is willing to fight for them. But he basically says, 'This is how I think we should approach the problem, but I am not wedded to my way definitely."

This self-assured posture, Carmines says, "shows a kind of intellect, a kind of level of confidence and a level of openness that we rarely see from political leaders."

Faced with the Great Depression, Carmines says, Franklin Delano Roosevelt also showed a great willingness to experiment. "He tried things out," Carmines says. "Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't."

But Roosevelt listened to others, Carmines said, and Obama does, too.

The Obstacles In Front Of You

The new president, says Worthington, subscribes to de Montesquieu's notion of standing with people, "instead of lording over them."

Which reminds Worthington of one more quote. From Sarah Ferguson, ex-wife of Prince Andrew of England. "Humility," Fergie once said, "comes from understanding that the obstacles in front of you are not going to go away."

Worthington says, "All those quotes I have mentioned seem to be apropos," he pauses, "for what Obama is stepping into."

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