Somewhere during my formative years I came to believe that humility was the rejection of the reality that some things I did, I did well. To accept any praise or even to share a strength or a talent was considered boastful and full of pride. As such, I grew up feeling just as bad about my successes as my failures. Fear of succeeding can be as sabotaging as fear of failure! I have heard Brennan Manning say “humility is not a poor opinion of yourself, rather it is no opinion of yourself.” I have come to understand the self-deprecation many of us fall prey to in the name of humility is just the opposite side of the same coin of pride - whether we think the sun shines from our backsides or we are poor little waifs with nothing to offer the anyone - the focus is squarely upon ourselves. With either view, the focus is upon self and, therefore, arrogance! Go figure and yet how many of us have gone to false humility as a mask for twisted ego!
We live in a culture where status is everything! Even nonstatus is a status as we have seen above. The tyranny of this is we all desire status and work hard to get it. Then, having attained it, to have to continue working like mad to maintain it! We spend so much time managing other peoples opinions and manicuring our image it no wonder depression is such an epidemic. This current in culture mitigates against true humility.
Humility is the ability to be honest about our own strengths and weakness while honestly acknowledging the strengths of others and not feeling intimidated or inadequate, as a result. Humility is an inner self-awareness of these without the need to use this weakness or strengths as a basis for our identity or to compare ourselves to others to fortify our own ego. Humility is not a preoccupation with ourselves.
Humility values substance, character and depth over hype, personality or even performance*. Humility is rooted in the security of knowing we are loved as we are and not as we think we should be, and this liberates us from unhealthy attachments to status - the opinions of others and the need for their acceptance at all costs.
Mark Strom writes:
“To lead humbly is to accept rank but to use it on behalf of others. To lead humbly is to refuse status. This is strength- strength of character. This is the strength of one whose world is bigger than his or her ego.”
The profundity of the statement of “one whose world is bigger than his or her own ego” serves to liberate us from the insignificance of a world-view that is only as big as ourselves. To quote Strom once more:
“ Humility opens us up to a world big enough to warrant perseverance and big enough to learn from.”
But humility also opens us up to the possibility of greatness - to build something noble, that has longevity, a legitimate legacy. This may seem counter-intuitive to humility but remember - humility is not about thinking well or poorly about oneself - so humility, almost paradoxically, accepts not only our smallness but our bigness! A sense of small in relation to a huge world in relation to our lives but “big in the face of petty fears, and self-doubt... Big as a child who can bring a father to his knees.”*
Humility is key to all aspects of character. While rooted deeply in love, humility brings authenticity to other virtues. Without humility*:
- Compassion can be patronizing.
- Courage may be irresponsible.
- Humor is often cruel.
- Integrity can often become sanctimonious.
- Passion may be tyrannical.
- Wisdom can become arrogant