Humility

by Patrick Dykie

  

     I decided to write a post about humility, as I thought of my own life over the past few years. I’ve dealt with health problems, the loss of my job, long-term unemployment, and serious financial problems. I’m back to work, and things have gotten better, but I learned some important lessons on humility. I also found that learning humility and being humble could be two of the hardest things that any of us could ever accomplish. It seems almost impossible to be truly humble. Not only do we live in a world where instant gratification is the norm, but one in which high self-esteem and confidence along with accomplishment are things we strive for and are rewarded for.

      It seems that everything today revolves around me, myself and I. We live in a world where athletes, actors, and the rich are put up on pedestals and looked up to, and idolized. Accomplishment or success at any cost is rewarded, while failure is looked down upon. Being humble is often seen as a weakness. People believe that if we are humble others will step all over us. How can we learn humility when it seems to go against our basic human nature? Humans have a basic need to be recognized for what we accomplish.

 

     You can’t turn on the TV without seeing another award show, an athlete receiving a trophy, or someone being recognized for something they’ve done. We all want people to notice us. To tell us we did a good job, or that we are special. We even want to feel good about ourselves when we help someone less fortunate. From the earliest age children are taught to try to be the best. To be proud of their achievements.

      Just look at the competitiveness of high school and the pressure to do well academically and in sports, and to try to get the highest grades and get into the best colleges. I often struggle with my own humility. I am a confident person, and I want to be the best in everything I do. It would appear at first glance that in learning to be humble we must give up some of our self-esteem and some of our confidence. That in order to learn humility we must become less, accomplish less, or become a doormat to others. As you will soon find out this isn’t always true. 

 

     Let’s first take a look at what the definition of humility is. The dictionary gives this description. 

” Humility is the quality of being modest, reverential, even politely submissive, and never being arrogant, contemptuous, rude or even self-abasing.”

      Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions. It is often thought of as being connected with notions of transcendent unity with the universe or the divine, and of egolessness. When we think of humility or being humble, what words come to mind? Modest, self-effacing, unassuming, ego-less, unpretentious, and open. People who aren’t humble are said to be vain, arrogant, judgmental, self-centered, spoiled, and egomaniacs.

     There seems to be so many questions to be answered. How do I learn humility? What does it mean to be truly humble? Do I have to give up some of who I am? Do I give up my own self-worth? Do I give up all my worldly goods and spend my life helping those less fortunate? These are all tough questions. No one is born humble. We are a sum of all are knowledge and experiences. It takes a concerted effort to learn what humility really is and how we can move towards achieving it. I honestly don’t believe that I will ever achieve perfect humility. I believe that each of us is on a wonderful journey, and that our goal should be to do the best we can with an open heart, and let happen what was meant to happen. We should all strive for humility, but realize that the journey is what’s important. If I can find some humility along the way then I’ve lived a life worth living.

 “Do you wish people to think well of you? Then don’t think well of yourself.”—–Blaise Pascal

  

    Let me take a few moments to tell you what I feel humility entails. To be humble means not thinking you are any better than anyone else. It means not putting on airs or graces, trying to be someone you are not, and learning to put other people’s needs first. It is being prepared to do the “dirty work” without leaving it to someone else. Humility is also not planned. It is something that you just do. It is doing something without the expectation of reward and without thinking about what’s in it for me. 

     One thing I learned is that to be humble is not to give up your own self-esteem and confidence. We don’t have to devalue ourselves to be humble. We just have to not devalue others. We have to look at ourselves and understand that we are not any better than anyone else, nor are we more important than others. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have gifts, special talents and abilities. It just means that they are nothing if we don’t use them as they were meant to be used. It’s alright to take a step forward or upward. It’s okay to achieve things, get promotions, get a raise, or receive awards and honors.

     The key is to recognize that nothing is really achieved alone. If people put you on a pedestal, then invite them up, and then step back down. You’ll often find that the view from the ground is a whole lot better, and you’ll find much more satisfaction. I was once told that its not always bad to be in another’s shadow. If you stand below a mighty tree the leaves will shade you from the glare of the sun, cool you down, and protect you from the rain. Remember as you make your way through life to be sure to watch where you step. Make sure that no one is under your foot.

 

 

     I like to visualize humility as being on a giant staircase reaching towards the sky and disappearing far beyond our sight. The staircase is crowded as people move steadily upward. Some people are rushing up ahead, and moving as quickly as possible you can see them disappear into the distance. As they move they may periodically stop and look back with a self-satisfied smile. They see this as a race, and they are winning. Some are pushing others out-of-the-way or trampling them underfoot in their rush to move ahead.

      As you move you can feel  those behind you jostling for position or surging forward to push their way through. Like any journey, all the people are so different. Some are fast and strong, while others are weak and struggle to keep up among the crowds. Some may even have new expensive running shoes or sturdy boots for walking, while others walk in their bare feet. If you look back you will see those who are not quite as strong, or determined as you are, but they plod along and do the best they can with the gifts they’ve been given. If you look hard enough you see that though slower they are just like you. They are all on the same journey, and moving towards the same goal which cannot yet been seen in the distance.

     To know humility is to not rush upward without seeing where you step, but to move with strong and steady steps. It is to gently help those in front of you move forward if they tire or struggle. You may even catch someone as they fall back, and carry them for a while until they regain their strength. You may stop where you are to rest, get you’re bearings, and look forward, beside you and behind you to see how everyone else is doing. Humility may even cause you to move down the stairs to reach out and grasp a hand and pull someone up to your step. It may involve moving far down for a while to help others physically move up. You may often move down to encourage others in their journey upward. You may even end up far back looking at the backs of others as they slowly move up those stairs.

     The people in front of you may be slower than you, and you may have to shorten your stride. That’s okay. You have plenty of time in your journey. Time to learn and laugh and live. Time to experience all that there is. It doesn’t matter where you are on the staircase. There will always be people in front of you and people behind you. The important thing is what you do, how you act, what you learn, and what you become as you make your way up the staircase. Hopefully by the time you reach the top you will have learned the true meaning of humility.  

“So when you think of humility, don’t “think” of humility. Just act and do without the thought of self or rewards. For when that is done, the rewards do ultimately come in a way that is far removed from any human gift that can be given.” — Allen Schmeltz

     The question we need to ask is how we learn humility. It isn’t easy. It may be the toughest thing you ever do. I struggle every day with humility. I wrote down a few steps which I am working on myself.

 

 

 

1. Look at the world around you.  Sometimes we need to stop our rush through life and look around us. We need to look at the vastness of the universe, it’s beauty and complexity, and our place in it. It can be a humbling experience. It is amazing how all of us are like a tiny grain of sand on a vast beach. We are seemingly so small, and unimportant and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet we are also so special and unique. We are like snowflakes in a winter storm. There are too many to count, but not one of them are identical. 

     I like to look at life and the world as an enormous puzzle. I had said that each piece no matter how small was important to the entire puzzle. To learn humility we need to realize that we are like the pieces of a puzzle. We are all of equal importance in the puzzles completion. I also believe that the more we learn the more humble we will become.

2. Think of others first. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a hard thing to do. How many times do we start conversations and talk about ourselves or our families? I do it. I’m proud of my Wife and Sons, and I like to tell people about their accomplishments. I’ve been trying to concentrate on asking people about their families, their personal life, and if they have problems. The idea is to become a good listener.

3. Avoid certain behaviors. This seems pretty easy, but it’s not. Learning not to boast, brag, toot your own horn, put people down, or judge others is very hard to do. I think the key to this is to make a conscious effort to stop talking and begin listening. Often, bragging or boasting are signs of our own insecurities. A truly humble person doesn’t need to build himself up. He already has self-esteem, and feels good about himself.

4. Learn how to treat others. We’ve all heard the phrase; “but for the grace of God go I”.  Many people are often on different levels of that staircase because of circumstances, but they are no better or worse than us. As I wrote in another post, “We are all just people.” Part of gaining humility is learning to treat everyone with the same dignity and respect irregardless of their age, socioeconomic situation, profession, or status in society. When you see that homeless person or someone else in need remember that besides food, clothing and shelter, do not offer them sympathy or pity. Instead offer them dignity, encouragement, friendship, hope, gentleness and kindness.

5. Value yourself. I talked earlier about how a humble person is never a doormat for others. People who have learned humility have very high self-esteem. They value who they are and what they have to offer. When you feel good about yourself as a person, you feel good about what you’re contributing to the world, and what you’re able to accomplish. A self-centered person will say,

 “I’m great because I have skills, intelligence and talents.’ A humble person will say, “I have been blessed with gifts. How can I use them to help those around me.” 

     Those who are humble don’t lower themselves down, but raise those around them up.

6. Paradigm Shifts. This phrase was coined by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 and later used by Stephen Covey in his book; “Seven habits of Highly Effective People.” He talks about a “personal paradigm shift.” This involves a profound change from one way of thinking to another. It involves changing our perceptions and preconceived notions. To truly understand humility this is a necessary step.

     I have to be honest and tell you that I often have preconceived ideas of people. I know that personally I have a long way to go in understanding humility. Let me give you an example of a preconceived notion. Many times we’ll see a homeless person and we’ll think that he is a bum who doesn’t like to work, or is a criminal. The fact is that the majority of the homeless are good people who have had problems. Many have lost their jobs, and homes. Some are dealing with substance abuse or mental illness. I was surprised to recently learn how many families are homeless as well as veterans of our armed forces. We may look at a Mother on welfare a certain way, but we may be wrong in our thinking. She may have just come out of an abusive relationship and may be working one or more low paying jobs to support herself and her children.. To learn humility we need to look at people, not how we perceive them, but as people like us who may need our help. 

     I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of work to do if I want to ever be called a humble man. I’ve learned that there are many roadblocks to achieving humility. They include our own pride, personal insecurities, selfishness, and greed. Learning humility is a hard road. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to take the easy way. I’ve been told that gaining humility leads to wisdom, finding meaning in your life, people being drawn to you and personal peace. I wish you all well in your own personal journeys.

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.—–Gandhi

One Comment to “Humility”

  1. Wow this article is so well-written! Very beautiful! Indeed I also have a lot to work on to become humble, and these tips will surely help a lot! Thanks for sharing.

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