On Being Humble

As virtues go, humility is pretty unpopular,” states Patty Onderko in her article, Do These 6 Things to Be More Humble,” published in the December 2015 issue of Success.com. She continues with the following:

Being paid the ‘humble’ compliment can be worse than when a woman gives her romantic partner the “you’re a nice guy” letdown. But many positive psychologists feel that humility is due for an image makeover.

Part of the reason humility has been so overlooked as valuable and honorable is practicality. After all, it’s hard to measure how humble a person is. If researchers ask someone to assess her own humility and the self-rating is five out of five stars, how humble can she really be? This paradox of humility is why you probably haven’t heard of it as a ‘regular’—up there with gratitude, optimism and compassion—in the science of happiness. It’s difficult to quantify and study.”

Humility also has another public relations challenge: It’s not exciting. We might appreciate the trait in others—we don’t feel threatened by unassuming people—but in ourselves? Eh. We’d rather be confident and bold. We’ll take that spotlight, thank you very much. Humility doesn’t have the Oprah-worthy, leather-bound gratitude journals, nor does it feature optimism’s sunny, iconic smiley face, nor the heartwarming imagery of compassion.

But humility could effect just as powerful a positive change in your life as the other pillars of well-being. Higher levels of humility have been associated with a higher sense of life purpose, better (self-reported) health, increased workplace harmony, longer-lasting marriages and greater generosity—all of which contribute to stronger communities. And that’s sort of the point of humility: It’s for the good of all, not just oneself (another reason it’s been a tough sell). “Humility is a very pro-social quality,” says Joshua Hook, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas. (Quote source and full article available here.)

So what is humility? Paul summed it up in Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” It shows up in our actions and our attitudes towards others. It is, as Paul states, valuing others above ourselves. And that’s not easy to do in our materialistic, money-driven, and “Me” oriented society.

In an article published on February 3, 2018, titled, Ten Characteristics of a Humble Person, by Craig Finnestad, pastor of The Water’s Edge United Methodist Church, he lists those ten characteristics as follows:

  • A humble person is teachable. Humility believes it can always learn from the education and experiences of others. A humble person is a growing person who is quick to read, invite feedback, and ask good question.
  • A humble person is at peace with themselves and others. Humility embraces contentment and simplicity. It doesn’t need to have the nicest or be the best. Humility puts relationships before the need to be right. Humility enjoys balance and harmony.
  • A humble person is grateful. Humility isn’t entitled. Humility believes it doesn’t deserve a darn thing and is thankful for the many blessings received in life.
  • A humble person is slow to offend and quick to forgive. Humility is keenly mindful of the grace it has received and is quick to extend that grace to others.
  • A humble person asks for help. Humility helps us know who we are and who we are not. Humility allows us to live authentically. Humility sees assistance and support as an opportunity to develop and not as a sign of weakness.
  • A humble person treats everybody with respect. Humility teaches us to believe that we are not much better or worse than anybody else, all people have great value, and all people deserve to be treated as such.
  • A humble person is patient and doesn’t easily get frustrated with the imperfection of others. Humility knows that mistakes and inadequacies are part of life. Humility is tolerant of self and others when deficiencies appear and failures happen.
  • A humble person recognizes their own limitations. Humility doesn’t have a negative view of self. Humility has an accurate view of self. Humility leads us to the powerful and beautiful place of living out our strengths and passions in life.
  • A humble person celebrates the accomplishments of others. Humility sees others as co-pilgrims and collaborators and not competitors. Humility genuinely rejoices when others prosper and triumph.
  • A humble person is open to a deep relationship with God. Humility knows God is the creator of the world and people are the created. Pride elevates self over God. Pride leads us to worship the idols of control–sex, money, and power. Humility leads us to Jesus. (Quote source here.)

I came across a short story titled, True Touching Story to Humble Ourselves,” which is actually a thread started by #Deepthireddy (no author name attributed to it). Here is that story:

I was parked in front of the mall wiping off my car. I had just come from the car wash and was waiting for my husband to get out of work.

Coming my way from across the parking lot was what society would consider a bum. From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes, and no money.

There are times when you feel generous but there are other times that you just don’t want to be bothered. This was one of those “don’t want to be bothered times.”

“I hope he doesn’t ask me for any money,” I thought. He didn’t. He came and sat on the curb in front of the bus stop but he didn’t look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus.

After a few minutes he spoke. “That’s a very pretty car,” he said. I said, “thanks,” and continued wiping off my car. He sat there quietly as I worked. The expected plea for money never came.

As the silence between us widened something inside said, “ask him if he needs any help.” I was sure that he would say “yes” but I held true to the inner voice.

“Do you need any help?” I asked. He answered in three simple but profound words that I shall never forget. I expected nothing but an outstretched grimy hand. He spoke the three words that shook me.

“Don’t we all?” he said.

I was feeling high and mighty, successful and important, above a bum in the street, until those three words hit me like a twelve gauge shotgun.

Don’t we all?

I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to sleep, but I needed help. I reached in my wallet and gave him not only enough for bus fare, but enough to get a warm meal and shelter for the day.

We often look for wisdom in great men and women. We expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. No matter how much you have, no matter how much you have accomplished, you need help, too.

No matter how little you have, no matter how loaded down you are with problems, even without money or a place to sleep, you can give help. Even if it’s just a compliment, you can give that. Maybe that man was just a homeless stranger wandering the streets.

Maybe he was more than that…. (Quote source here.)

There is a difference between genuine humility and it’s counterparts, false humility and pride. In an article published on November 15, 2013, titled Five Ways to Tell if Humility is Real or Fake,” by David J. Bobb, author and president of the Bill of Rights Institute, he writes:

You know the type. In meetings with the boss, your co-worker is deferential and winsome, but back in the office he’s full of bluster and condescension for all around him. In public, he wears humility like it’s a comfortable hat; in private, he’s all about his own self-interest.

Whether in business or politics, on the athletic field or in the classroom, there are lots of people who feign humility but in fact care only about their own agendas.

How can we tell if humility is genuine or fake? Here are five ways:

1. Real humility leads a person to be curious about and concerned for others, not fixated on how others can lead to one’s own enrichment. Humility is putting others first in thought, word, and deed.  It resists the temptation to self-aggrandize.

It’s easy to feign interest in another person if there’s something in it for you, like a job promotion or increased recognition. A person with humility is in it for the long-term common good, not short-term self-interest. Examples include helping  colleagues because of who they are, not because of their position, or writing a great letter of reference for a young person.

As a young man, George Washington had an enormous ego and insatiable appetite for renown. Once he recognized that he had to be ambitious for goals beyond his own advancement, he was better able to check his ego and resist the allure of power for its own sake.

2. Humility is about true service, not self-congratulation. Fawning, fake humility is ingratiating, not giving. It pretends to be generous, but in reality it’s self-centered. Take the humblebrag. When asked to identify a personal weakness, a humblebraggart might say, “I’m always working too hard for everyone else.”

Humility is often erroneously portrayed as poor self-esteem, but in fact it’s the arrogant who have a distorted sense of self. Arrogant people have an exaggerated view of their own contributions, and limit the good they might do by clamoring for credit.

3. In admitting an error or acknowledging that one is wrong, the humble person not only apologizes but also changes course. A person pretending to be humble might say a halfhearted “sorry,” but stubbornly continues down the same path.

Throughout his career, Abraham Lincoln was willing to learn from his mistakes. Like George Washington, Lincoln was a man of immense ambition, but as he made humility his habit, he was able to see with greater moral clarity.

Whether in political or military decisions, Lincoln was willing to own up to his errors.

“I now wish to make personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong,” Lincoln wrote Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863. Referring to the General’s decision-making, and ultimate success at the critical Battle of Vicksburg, Lincoln admitted that his own strategic advice had been incorrect. He thanked General Grant for “the almost inestimable service” he gave the nation in making the right decision.

4. Real humility builds up; false humility tears down. The same person who is quick to claim credit for a project done well is often first to blame others whenever there is a problem. When the results aren’t good, Jim Collins writes, a humble leader “looks in the mirror, not out the window.”

5. The more responsibility or power one has, the more humility they need. Often those who have displayed false humility in an upward climb reveal their arrogance when they’ve reached the top. We can be confident that George Washington’s humility was real because when he was at the peak of power he relinquished it—twice—first as general in returning to civilian life and then again as president in leaving office after two terms.

It’s hard to read what is in another person’s heart, but false humility has a way of revealing itself. First Lady, before the term existed, Abigail Adams gave her son advice that rings true even today, “If you begin to think yourself better than others, you will then become less worthy, and lose those qualities which now make you valuable.” (Quote source here.)

I also came across the following chart titled, Distinguishing True Humility from It’s Two Extremes: False Humility and Pride,” on a website titled, Child of Grace.” The chart below was created by Don Schwager, and it is also available at this link:

This chart was created by Don Schwager.

In closing, a 3-Part article titled, How to Be Humble,” on WikiHow, states the following:

“It’s hard to be humble,” says an old country song, “when you’re perfect in every way.” Of course, few people actually think they’re perfect in every way. But it can still be pretty hard to be humble, especially if you live in a society that encourages competition and individuality. Yet even in such a culture, humility remains an important virtue. Learning to be humble is of paramount importance in most spiritual traditions, and humility can help you develop more fully and enjoy richer relationships with others, as well as create opportunities and earn you respect.

Part 1: Accept your limitations (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Admit you are not the best at everything–or anything.
  2. Recognize your own faults.
  3. Be grateful for what you have.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  5. Admit your mistakes.
  6. Avoid bragging.
  7. Be considerate in conversations.
  8. Don’t take all the credit.

Part 2: Appreciating Others (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Appreciate the talents and qualities of others.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others.
  3. Don’t be afraid to defer to others’ judgments.
  4. Seek guidance from written texts.
  5. Remain teachable.
  6. Help others.
  7. Go last.
  8. Compliment others.
  9. Apologize.
  10. Listen more than you talk.

Part 3: Rediscovering a Sense of Wonder (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Rejuvenate your sense of wonder.
  2. Practice gentleness.
  3. Spend more time in nature.
  4. Do yoga.
  5. Spend time around children.

Warnings:

  • Don’t confuse being humble with being sycophantic (being overly-praiseful of someone for your own profit). This is a common misconception, but the two attitudes are completely different.
  • To be humble isn’t the same as being humble, and often people who pretend to be humble do it in order to seek out praise. Other people will recognize this, and even if you fool some, you won’t derive the same benefits as you would through actually developing humility.
  • While humility is a good thing, don’t take it too far, thus becoming a doormat. Remember, everything in moderation. Humility is not a weak trait, it is actually a very strong one in the same way kindness is strong. Standing up for yourself with humility is entirely possible and just takes some practice. Be prepared to need to practice this, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the balance right initially. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul in Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…

Forgiving one another . . .

As God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here (chart)
Photo #4 credit here

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