From a 1991 Just a Thought column by Art Railton:

Most of us have moments when we feel more important than we really are. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a certain smugness takes over. And why not? We’re living in an age of conspicuous self-importance. It’s the current talisman.

Self-hype is very much in the air. Humility, it seems, is a sign of weakness. Being humble, along with a nickel, will get you, as we used to say, a cup of coffee. In a world of Donald Trumps, of athletes holding out for an extra million, of football players dancing in the end zone, it’s easy to believe in ego. Try to think of a national hero who’s humble.

So who can blame us ordinary folks, you and me, if, on occasion, our tiny ego takes over and we feel important. Just for a moment perhaps, but important nonetheless. And it’s probably good for us, as long as it doesn’t last.

After a couple of years as head of a committee, we’re handed the inevitable token of appreciation as our successor states how impossible it will be to fill our shoes. The members duly assembled, happy to have found a successor, applaud. It’s only human that for a few moments our ego blossoms and we allow ourselves to believe what we hear. We are, it seems, important after all.

Occasionally, someone will tell me how great my last Gazette piece was and visions of Thurber and Andy White and other greats dance through my head. It’s good for the soul, unwarranted though it is. Just don’t let it last.

I have a cure for it. Whenever such a surge of self-satisfaction pumps me up, I remind myself about my summer friend, the seagull. Like many folks who spend summers by the ocean, we have a pet seagull. Well, he’s not really our pet. We didn’t adopt him; he adopted us. We are, in fact, his pets. And each summer we feed him and each summer he repays me with a lesson in humility. Not that seagulls are humble, quite the opposite. That’s where the message is.

Every afternoon when I stoke up the grill on the deck, getting ready to prove I can cook if I have to, our friendly seagull takes his position on the chimney, watching every move I make. He knows what’s going on. He’s watched me for years. I am, in his mind at least, making his dinner. He waits patiently, standing guard, chasing off all other seagulls, as I baste the swordfish, or the chicken, or carefully turn the hamburgers, until they are done just right.

Then, as he stares down at me, I put the carefully prepared food on a platter, take it inside, and some time later, I return to serve his dinner — a plate full of delicacies. To me, it’s a plate full of leftovers, scraps none of us will eat: carcasses of chickens, bones of fish, trimmings of steak. But to him, it’s a perfectly prepared, precisely trimmed, selection of tidbits. Dinner in the grand style. I carefully place them on his usual feeding place, and he struts up like the Lord of the Manor, tucking on a figurative napkin, and arrogantly gulps down the meal — the meal that I have prepared just for him.

That’s what he thinks. And why shouldn’t he? He has watched me lovingly cook the meat, then carry it into the kitchen where I fed everybody else and then thoughtfully cut it up into smaller bits before taking it back outside for him.

Surely he (and here I must admit I’m guessing) thinks we went to all that trouble just for him. It’s so obvious. Why shouldn’t he think that? Why shouldn’t he think he’s more important than he really is? He doesn’t realize that he’s really a convenient garbage dispose-all, not a dinner guest. His arrogance, his strut, his noisy and animated fight when another gull shows up, makes it clear that he believes the whole thing is in his honor.

So whenever I’m tempted to think I’m more important than I am, I tell myself to remember the seagull. That brings on a quick surge of humility.

Maybe we should send a few seagulls to Washington. There are folks down there who could use such a lesson.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner