Over the course of my life, I’ve found myself wondering a lot about the word humility.
For a long time I thought to be humble was to cut oneself down to size. If humility is the opposite of pride, then it seems logical to think that the way you stay humble is by running from pride as far and as fast as you can, in the complete opposite direction.
As I began testing out this theory, I thought of some interesting situations that disprove this idea. What if Slash or Steve Vai came up to me and told me “I suck at guitar. I’m pretty much the worst.” Would that be humility? It certainly wouldn’t be pride, would it? I mean, that’s pretty far from pride. He’s doing the opposite of bragging, so he must be REALLY humble, right?
If Steve Vai or Slash ‘suck’ at guitar, or if Ernest Hemmingway sucks at writing, or Picasso at painting, or Aristotle at philosophizing, what does that make me? How much more must I suck at those things? It may seem odd for a moment, but if you really think about it, saying you are horrible at something that you’re actually very good at is probably more arrogant and prideful than saying the opposite. When you make yourself out to be less than you are, you are pretty much holding up a giant middle finger to the sky and telling every other person on earth that they know nothing about anything. No. In fact you have somehow surpassed all of their knowledge and know better than everyone combined. You know what you’re worth and they know less than nothing about you. As it turns out, humility is not in opposition to pride, just as the opposite of red is not green.
Our culture needs to get a better sense of the word humble.
You’ve heard the phrase “I am my own worst critic”. The truth is anyone with a sense of self-worth will put themselves under the magnifying glass, but the problem with any magnifying glass is it only looks one way. You see only yourself, nothing else. When you’re under it, you compare yourself to who you want to be, and sooner or later you start realizing that who you want to be isn’t who you are. You can only have two reactions to this experience.
A prideful person gets angry. They get angry with the world that sees them this way (even if the world doesn’t see them this way), and they get angry with themselves for not being better. A prideful person has something to prove to everyone. They need to prove that they are better than what they see under this lens, or that they are much much worse and everyone else is an idiot. A prideful person keeps their eye fixed on this lens, ostracizing themselves from the world around them, from all the rest of the people who are hurting and damaged and need assistance. A prideful person serves the only thing their eye can see: themselves.
On the other hand –
A humble person finds joy in this realization that who they are is NOT who they want to be. A humble person just sees what they’ve known all along to be true, that they are indeed good at many things, and they need to get better at others. A humble person has an accurate view of ‘me’, not a self-satisfying view that says they are better or worse at things than they are. A humble person asks for help in the areas they are hurting, because they see that analyzing themselves is only the first step in a journey towards becoming who they truly want to be. A humble person doesn’t complain over the type of person they want to become, they take action to make it happen. A humble person looks to others as examples, and not to the people who act like they have it all together, but the people that have SOME things together. A humble person learns what it means to be good at something, and accepts the mantle by teaching others how to do the same.
You see, in my experience, sometimes the last voice we need to hear is our own. The fact is, our own voice is usually self-interested, arrogant in its claims, and self-concerned. When we put ourselves under the microscope for too long, we tend to see whatever it is we want to see: a beautiful, talented, successful human, or an utterly despicable, unlovable monster.
I’m sorry to say it, but we think about ourselves far more than other people think about us. It’s a cultural defect. I, for one, am no longer willing to stand for it.
So the next time you sit there beating yourself up or stroking your own ego, take a moment to pull back the magnifying glass and point it elsewhere. If you think you’re winning at this game called life, help someone else win, or by doing something below you such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or cleaning a friends dirty bathroom. If you feel you’re losing miserably, lift yourself up by helping another human being in need. It may seem or feel like the opposite of what you need, but I assure you it is exactly what you need. Turn the lens, understand where others are at, and in it you will find both your trials and your talents, but you’ll find comfort in knowing everyone has them: trials and talents.
Let’s do something about it. We should be redefining our culture and our neighborhoods, not redefining ourselves. We should be choosing what to give up, not what to get next. And no one should think of themselves more highly (or lowly) than they are.