Dag Hammarskjöld was en route to negotiate peace in Congo when, in 1961, the plane in which he was travelling crashed, ending the lives of all its passengers. Born in 1905, Hammarskjöld was a Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 until his tragic death, after which he was awarded the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize—then the only person to receive it posthumously. Two years after his death, Hammarskjöld’s journal was published: a collection of personal reflections and philosophical insights that underscore his deep spirituality and profound wisdom. This entry came on his birthday in 1959, two years before his untimely end.
The Diary Entry
Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is—is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.
To be nothing in the self-effacement of humility, yet, for the sake of the task, to embody its whole weight and importance in your bearing, as the one who has been called to undertake it. To give to people, works, poetry, art, what the self can contribute, and to take, simply and freely, what belongs to it by reason of its identity. Praise and blame, the winds of success and adversity, blow over such a life without leaving a trace or upsetting its balance.
Towards this, so help me, God—
Dag Hammarskjöld’s journal was discovered after his death and published in 1963 with the title Vägmärken. An English translation, titled Markings, was published the next year by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Leif Sjöberg and edited by W. H. Auden. Entries begin when he was twenty and continue until his death. Some are dated; many are not. A fascinating and sometimes profound collection.
- Hammarskjöld’s journal has a page on Wikipedia
- The website of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
- Dag Hammarskjöld’s bio on The Nobel Prize website
Excerpt from MARKINGS by Dag Hammarskjold, translated by Leif Sjöberg and W. H. Auden, translation copyright © 1964, copyright renewed 1992 by Penguin Random House LLC and Faber & Faber Ltd.. Used by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd and Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.