The Meaning Of Humility
If you’re anything like me you assumed humility meant humiliation.
As if humility is just a forced feeding of humble pie when one gets a little too puffed up; too arrogant and full of themselves.
Someone or something has to bring us down to size, right?
But the idea of humiliation and/or being humbled is not necessarily the same as the virtue of humility.
Maybe, after digesting the definition above, you’re assuming it means one who has little care for himself or is just completely indifferent to the human condition.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t sound like humility but depression.
Thinking of yourself as unworthy or invalid is not even in the same ballpark as humility.
The problem is that the above perspectives are glossed over with self-centeredness.
They are points of view trapped in the mind of the thinker – they’re self-absorbed.
So, What The Hell Is It!
It’s important to note that the word humility has strict intent.
Its aim is to capture an idea that is above all things selfless.
Humility is the complete opposite of self-centeredness.
In fact, it is people-centered.
Individuals often equate humility with weakness and groveling.
Who can find wisdom without first seeking to acquire it?
Who can become knowledgeable without first admitting they do not know?
Growth assumes a need!
Who can get help without first realizing they need it?
The minute your lips start the stagnant “I know” mantra you cease to know any more information.
Call it complacency; call it what you will.
But you have, for all intents and purposes, become a finished story.
Fresh off the lot already depreciating in value.
Humility Is Social
We are a social species and flourish in an interdependent state.
I usually distinguish interdependence (which I refer to as worldcentricism) from independence (ethnocentrisim) and depedendence (egocentrisim).
The image below captures the idea.
Corporately, if we fail to achieve interdependence, we no longer progress.
Actually, we die.
We didn’t survive millions of years in isolation. We survived and thrived in groups – together.
You MUST ask yourself: where can I contribute?
This is the birth place of genuine humility.
The self-centered individual looks for the resource to consume; the interdependent person seeks to contribute resources.
The difference is vast.
In western society, we often define contribution in unattainable terms, but it can be as simple as contributing an attentive ear to truly listen to another.
A rare resource indeed!
Consequently, social interdependence is a mutually reliant system; that is, WE ALL RELY ON EACH OTHER.
Humility is simply surrendering to this fact.
We Survive Together & Thrive Together
To illustrate, consider the Four Greek Temperaments of Hippocrates.
==> The Choleric
The Choleric is the leader; he’ll build the city but left to his own devices will drive it to tatters and ruin.
The Phlegmatic is orderly, routine-oriented, and analytic, he is able to curb the Choleric chaos. As you can imagine, the relationship between the two is filled with strife and animosity.
Thus enter stage left: the Sanguine. This is the social aristocrat. His social event planning and never failing amiability is able to reduce the Choleric-Phlegmatic division and create a productive level of cohesion.
The Melancholic is the artist; the administrator of passion, without whom life would be listless.
Each Individual Is Necessary To The Whole
Though the above description is extraordinarily limited and brief, it nonetheless gets the point across that each temperament is indispensable to a functioning civilization (be it a kingdom, small community, or family).
With this in mind, humility is the understanding of one’s shortcomings and the realization that another will compensate for the lack and vice versa.
Self-sufficiency an illusion and humility is the application of this truth.
Indeed, the only way to invest in yourself is by investing in others.
Small wonder our predecessors called this virtue “humus.” A Latin word that defines the rich, compost soil – the best for producing and sustaining life; and without a shadow of a doubt the best for cultivating prosperity.
The Real Question: Am I Humble?
In Seminary, I once heard a fellow student quip to a professor that he was humble.
The professor, armed with pre-programmed responses, quickly countered, “humility claimed, is pride renamed.”
I remember thinking, “boy, these guys have an answer for everything!”
To be honest, I didn’t feel either was humble. In hindsight, neither was I with my elitist mentality.
So, what are the telltale signs of humility?
At this point, most of our attention has been directed at externals (definitions and concepts, how community functions, interdependence, etc.)
It’s time to direct our attention inward.
Lets begin with a thought experiment:
Think of a point in time when someone tried to correct you or criticize you.
Better yet, think of a time when this was done in front of an audience.
This ruffles my feathers just thinking about it let alone actually retrieving a memory.
How about a time when someone got an award or recognition and your efforts were largely unnoticed.
How did it make you feel?
Were you genuinely happy for the individual or were your insides boiling?
Humility isn’t easy.
Sure, playing the humble part can be easy, at least for a season.
But to really feel it and mean it internally feels impossible, doesn’t it?
Hopefully I cleared away misguided notions of humility above.
It’s not weakness, it’s submission to reality.
It’s not downplaying your own gifts and skills, as if you have nothing to offer.
It’s not about mortifying yourself at any given opportunity.
That’s far too self-absorbed. Humility is the exact opposite!
According the C.S. Lewis in his classic Mere Christianity, here’s what you’re likely to encounter when you meet a truly humble person:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
3 Signs Of Humility
I likely could have just quoted this passage and avoided all the gobbledygook above.
Nonetheless, I believe I’ve added some value to the discussion.
To avoid falling prey to so-called false humility, the following are three signs you’ve developed genuine humility.
1st Sign: Humility Claimed Is Pride Renamed
I noted above that wisdom is first acquired by the realization that one is lacking in it.
Well, the same is true with humility.
Lewis is adamant that humility begins by first acknowledging one’s pride and how profuse this weakness truly is.
You may be wondering just what in the hell pride is.
Lewis defines pride as “the pleasure of being above the rest.”
If you recall this variety of reasoning is the sword that it’s you off from others. It separates you from the relationships and human flourishing.
Operating from this definition, Lewis couldn’t have been more on the money when he wrote, “Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.”
The humble person is notably self-aware and remarkably transparent when it comes to their pride.
2nd Sign: The Epictetus Expression
M. Scott Peck in his classic work The Road Less Traveled accurately observed,
Better yet, the prayer of Saint Francis brilliantly captures the breadth and depth of the truly humble:
The prayer of Saint Francis embodies a masterful concern for other people.
This doesn’t mean the total absence of pride. Rather, it’s the choice to live differently in the face of it.
It’s a potent curiosity that desires to learn from the best rather than pridefully, and fearfully if I might add, be above the rest.
3rd Sign: Surrendering Right
Albert Bernstein wrote an incredibly insightful book on interpersonal dynamics called Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry.
The focus of his work is on personality disorders. Not necessarily in the DSM-5 sense but in the behavioral sense. In other words, how certain types of people behave.
For example, he wrote, “When people are driving themselves crazy, they have neuroses or psychoses. When they drive other people crazy, they have personality disorders.”
Moreover, “It’s not so much that they think of themselves as better than other people as they don’t think of other people at all.”
What’s another word for this? Pride!
Bernstein explains that most emotional vampires you will encounter do not have full-fledged personality disorders, but the ways they think and act do seem to fall into patterns of five types:
- Antisocial Vampires
- Histrionic Vampires
- Narcissistic Vampires,
- Obsessive-Compulsive Vampires
- Paranoid Vampires.
It’s amazing to see such a robust assessment of the dark nuances of pride.
This article is not to pontificate on disordered personalities, if you want that, go read his book.
This post is to demonstrate how a humility-informed person responds to these personality types.
I call the response, “Surrendering Right.”
The humble person is able to sacrifice their need to be right for contentment and community.
For starters, humility focuses on perception of control.
It doesn’t overextend it’s authority.
Prideful people tend to see things happening to them. Namely, they are victims.
Humble people tend to see things happening but they can determine their response. That is, life isn’t what happens to them, it’s how they respond to it.
Your response is where your authority lies.
Moreover, as noted above, humble individuals don’t have the illusion of perfection. They’ve jettisoned the concept where it belongs, to the land of statistics, not reality.
Additionally, understanding the importance of connection and community and learning to live by social rules is the masterful trade of the humble individual.
Emotional Vampires focus only on their own needs, only on what’s fair to them, and that freedom is the ability to do what they like rather than the right to do what they ought. Humility is the complete opposite!
When it comes to relationships humility sets limits, arranges contingencies, is consistent, and keeps lectures to a minimum. Moreover, it rewards good behavior and ignores bad, and oddly enough, occasionally dishes out the good old time-out.
The person whose life is informed by humility doesn’t get stuck in a pissing contest; they don’t launch a battle of the wills.
Rather they resist the urge to “win and dominate” for no other reason than. To win and dominate.
They will be quick to admit fault when they are wrong. They don’t take everything personal and they certainly allow others to say face.
Any conflict has one aim: resolution.
The humble person can let go and let God.
An easy task?
But perhaps it’s the key to a high quality of life.
Humility doesn’t happen by accident!
==>Stop thinking about yourself.
==>Stop talking about yourself.
==>Stop fighting yourself.
==>Incorporate others into your life
To learn more about the Four Greek Temperaments I’d recommend Tim LaHaye’s “Spirit-Controlled Temperament.”
Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?
Edward L. Beck. Soul Provider: Spiritual Steps to Limitless Love