By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
Humility exists on a continuum half-way between self-centeredness and self-abnegation—between selfishness and self-denial. It’s the opposite of arrogance, more than meekness, nothing like shyness, never the loudest voice in the room, always unpretentious and always listens empathically.
It’s the “fruit of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There’s nothing superficial about those characteristics. You can’t fake them and you look ridiculous when you try.
There’s nothing weak about being humble. Sometimes humble, in a very natural way, plays the role of the strongest person in the room. For instance: he has said nothing thus far in a discussion that has turned into a debate—and then, suddenly, a voice not yet heard speaks with knowledgeable humility. Immediate silence fills the room. Everyone listens to a reasoned review of the matter and then a thoroughly thought-out compromise. That’s strength.
There’s a lot of discipline in the word. Humble supervises a boatload of virtues. It is genuine, kind, natural, unassuming, plain, down-to-earth. It is not a foundational personality characteristic; yet, Confucius said that “humility is the foundation of all virtues.”
Its voice speaks of its owner’s modest nature. It seems without ambition, yet moves upward easily in a system. If it is strong enough in you, it controls your inflated ego.
The ego—that’s humility’s principal adversary. Egoism labels the tendency to walk through life believing that you are the center of the world and everything happens because of you. The egoist is so full of himself that God gets squeezed out. That’s the big problem with egoism.
Fear always connects with anger. After that, egoism shines in the increased decibels of shouting voices. Sometime it’s immediate; sometimes it’s slow. For instance, a co-worker’s unfortunate comments—words that you read as personally demeaning—may bring you a sudden burst of anger. Immediately, you fear that official work supervisors may read your efforts the same way and place your job in jeopardy. You wonder: “How do I look? What am I doing to cause him to say those things to me? This is awful! What’s he got against me? I’m going to be fired!” Then, you act from your anger and escalate it into rage.
Notice, these worries, now internalized, leap to a conclusion that may relate to the worker’s feelings of guilt concerning his own work ethic, or they may simply be expressions from a fellow worker to achieve problems for you. If so, as your first blow lands, your colleague is the victor and he smiles.
There is no humility in this little vignette. Both workers were so full of “self” that they could not break free and think of the other. The colleague demonstrated arrogant manipulation, and you have revealed your own self-centered, immature and violent response.
How would the humble man have replied? Not defensively, for sure. He might have inquired concerning the specific point of the criticism and thanked the colleague for his advice. He might have simply smiled with an appreciative, knowing expression, or he might have ignored the criticism altogether.
Neither of these participants had any self-awareness of the consequences of their action. Each focused on self. Neither participant had any room in them for the voice of God. Ego won.
Humility is a broken spirit—a recognition that going it alone without God is counterproductive to a satisfying life. Also, the humble person has a contrite heart—a remorseful and regretful heart concerning hauntingly bad choices from the past.
Humility is also thankful, and during this time of a four-day weekend to concentrate on thanking God for his availability, for his beneficence, for his willing openness, for his patience, his presence, his peace, his love and his never-ending grace, we can empty ourselves of everything that prevents humility from entering into the core of our being. Additionally, we have the opportunity to express love and thankfulness to those around us. If we are alone we value others who have contributed their love and blessings to us in the past.
Let’s face it! None of us is perfect. No one! If God wanted us perfect, he would have made us that way. He didn’t. Therefore, let us recognize that he continues to urge us to be as close to perfect as is humanly possible. Perhaps we could start with an increase in our “humility quotient.” It subsumes the great values of a positive, giving, sharing life. It speaks to us with warmth and affection, and when we are humble we are fully whole.