The recent dustup between Donald Trump and Ben Carson has highlighted a striking difference between these two non-establishment frontrunners in the Republican presidential race. This difference will prove to be a profound advantage for the famous neurosurgeon.
When asked what sets him apart from Trump, Carson said, in his typical soft-spoken style, “I’ve realized where my success has come from, and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God. ‘By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life,’ and that’s a very big part of who I am. I don’t get that impression with him [Trump]. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get that.”
Trump, promising to fire back on anyone who “attacks” him, called the doctor who, at the age of 33, headed the Department of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and separated conjoined twins “just an okay doctor,” then said, “You look at his faith, and I think you’re not going to find so much.”
Carson is a man of strong faith and has been for many, many years. He’s also deeply humble.
Ben Carson’s Moral and Professional Accomplishments
Ben Carson grew up in poverty, raised by a single mother who pushed him to get a good education, do his very best, and make something of his life. With her encouragement and discipline, Carson became a top student and went on to become one of the most famous physicians in the world. In 1987, he led a team of 70 to perform a 22-hour surgery on baby twins who were joined at the back of their heads. Who would have guessed that a ghetto kid from the streets of Detroit would grow up to be the primary neurosurgeon who devised the plan for the operation?
Carson’s success, which has resulted not just in making money or providing jobs but saving and transforming lives, didn’t come easily. He writes in his book, “Think Big,” that he always had a terrible temper. He was arrogant and thought he knew more than anyone else. He would often strike out at anyone who opposed him, fighting back so he would be the winner.
That changed when he was a teenager. One afternoon when he was 14, he got into an argument with his friend. Carson pulled out a knife and lunged at him. The steel blade struck the boy’s metal belt buckle and broke.
“Realizing that I could have killed my friend, I raced home, locked myself in the bathroom, and sat on the edge of the tub—my heart filled with shame and remorse over what I had done,” Carson writes. “I prayed for God to take away my temper.”
‘A Man’s Pride Brings Him Low’
Carson describes how he slipped out of the bathroom long enough to grab a Bible. He opened it and began to read Proverbs. “The verse that struck me the most powerfully was, ‘Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than who takes a city’ (16:32). During the two or three hours that I remained in the bathroom, God performed a miracle in my life—He took away my temper, and I can honestly say I have never been troubled with anger since.”
“That day was the beginning of a lifelong habit—the daily reading of Proverbs,” he continues. “…Words from Proverbs finally got through to me and forced me to rethink much of life. Especially I recall 29:23: ‘A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.’“
When questioned on the campaign trail about how he’s different from Trump, Carson said he realized where his success came from and won’t in any way deny his faith. Later, he explained that he was describing himself more than commenting on Trump. By God’s grace, Carson has learned that riches and honor are found through humility and fear of the Lord, not through arrogance and pride. He simply said that, although he could be wrong, he didn’t get the impression that this was how Trump approached life.
Humility: A Strength the World Needs
I think most people would agree. Trump has admitted he’s not an active member of a church and that he doesn’t really see the need to ask God for forgiveness. Carson’s observation that they are very different is hardly a scathing attack. But when Trump said, “Who is he to question my faith?” Carson responded, not with anger or arrogance, but with the humility he learned when he was a young man. “I would like to say that the intention was not to talk to him, but about what motivates me. If he took that as a personal attack, I apologize, it was certainly not the intent.”
Carson’s intention was to focus on the humility and faith he learned a long time ago as he sat on the edge of the tub and thought about how his anger could have led to pain and suffering, even death.
“Being set free from arrogance did not come overnight,” he wrote, “but it began that day. From then on, whenever I got an indication from someone that I was being arrogant, it would feel like a sharp jab in my stomach. Even now, winning against pride is a struggle. . . . Through the years, I have come to realize that God has given me not only the natural gifts of a surgeon, but also the sensitivity to feel the hurt of my patients. This, however, does not give me the right to boast—I am only using the gifts that were given me. Knowing this does make me thankful.”
How refreshing to hear a man of such success, such notoriety, speak with such grace and humility. This is not to say that Carson is not a strong leader—to do the work he does takes fortitude and fearlessness. As he has written, “humility is not groveling.” He has led several organizations. He knows how to work with people and make difficult decisions. He is strong. He pursues excellence. He advocates hard work and independent spirit. But he never fails to recognize that others deserve praise as well, and that he does not labor alone. Such humility not weakness, but a strength that is sorely lacking in our world today.
Disillusioned Voters Pit Pride against Pride
We have been bombarded for years by arrogance from the highest office. We’ve had a president who says “I” much more often than he says “you.” We have a leader more concerned with his agenda and legacy than with what’s best for the American people. We now have presidential candidates who praise themselves more than they praise others.
Ironically, one of the impulses of the populist movement we see today is disdain for the arrogance of politicians who refuse to listen to the people, to set aside their own egos to speak for those they represent, to sacrifice their own glory to for the sake of the country. Yet, in this rebellion against elitist arrogance, too many have gravitated toward more arrogance. Pride is now pitted against pride. I promise you, no good will come of it.
The antidote to arrogance and pride is what Carson found as a young teenager in that bathroom with a broken knife in his hands. The answer is humility. The meek shall inherit the earth. The lowly gain honor.
Again, this is not a call for weakness. The humble man is the strongest man of all, for he knows the source of his strength is not in himself. The humble man is “driven to his knees,” as Abraham Lincoln wrote, because he has nowhere else to go. “My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Like Carson, Lincoln was a man others thought unqualified for the highest office. Yet he rose from difficult beginnings, putting his genius mind to work and trusting in God, to become one of the greatest and most humble leaders the world has ever known.
Greatness Doesn’t Come from Arrogance
Carson says that the more success he has had, the more his gratitude to God has deepened. By telling his life story while emphasizing that God has enabled him to do everything he has yearned to accomplish, he has had the opportunity to testify that God is still active today and that people can have hope and not remain victims to circumstance.
This is the very same message he told a group of high-school students in Washington DC several years ago at the National Science Olympiad Championship. My son, a freshman at the time, was one of those students. He sat in the audience, mesmerized by Carson, hanging on every word. My son, who has faced many trials of his own, was inspired not to think like a victim but to be the best he can be, to overcome through faith, to work hard and take personal responsibility for his actions, and to be humble in all he does.
My son, a brilliant and kind young man, is now applying to graduate school to become a research scientist. He has overcome great odds, and I personally thank Carson for inspiring him to both greatness and humility. I hope he will follow in Carson’s footsteps and bring healing to those who are suffering. I believe he will, because his faith is strong and his heart is humble.
Trump said that if we looked at Carson’s faith, we wouldn’t see much. I have looked, and I see a great deal. Dr. Ben Carson is a man of substance, humility, kindness, and faith. Given that our country is afflicted with the deadly disease of pride, his humble leadership is the healing balm we need. Our country can be great again, but that greatness cannot be attained through selfish pride. It can only be gained through humility and ultimately through love.