Do you find yourself snapping at, or complaining about, or annoyed by others? Do some things just seem to rub you the wrong way? Maybe it’s time to take a critical look at your values. Humility is often considered the ”foundation of all virtues,” yet modern lifestyles have increasingly focused on individuality, ambition and recognition. These egocentric goals may be an ongoing source of frustration and irritability, but sorting out our values can be a serious challenge.
Deep inside, we all want to be good; but when we discover we’re not so perfect, we tend to set up a facade that we hope will at least make us look better than others. Arrogance, pride and egotism are poor substitutes for a pure heart, and the longer we hold onto them, the more irritable we become.
Seeing how far we have strayed from our true goal, we might become depressed and feel worthless — the other egocentric extreme. Humility helps us see that we are neither superior to, nor inferior to others. Rather, everyone is in the same boat, and we need to work well together to keep it afloat.
What is humility
Humility is the characteristic of being humble, and can be understood as having a modest perception of one’s own significance. It is derived from the Latin word humus, meaning earth, or soil — a modest material that can withstand and endure through the ages.
Humility has always been stressed among sages and spiritual leaders, who understood the attachment to self to be a great obstacle to spiritual growth. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence in the promotion of humility, re-packaged as “a growth mindset.” Why is humility so important?
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Humility enables a person to set aside their ego to fully engage in and make the most of life. If you take your individual concerns a little less seriously, not only do you become more likable and more productive; you wash away your self-centered irritability.
When you see yourself as an integral part of the larger whole — rather than merely the center of your own world — all your virtues can shine forth.
Humility prompts us to always consider others first. When we step back and look at the big picture, we understand that we are not here to compete with others, but to help and serve one another.
With a heart of compassion, we become less critical of others, more forgiving, and more capable of understanding and tolerating others’ faults; looking instead at how we can help to improve the situation.
Adopting the attitude of “what’s mine is yours,” a humble person is generous with whatever he has. He takes the time to listen to others, offers help in whatever form he can, and is kind to everyone.
With humility, one abandons the modern sense of entitlement and sees everything as a gift. From the sun (or clouds) in the sky, to the roasted beans some foreign farmer harvested to make your coffee — nothing is taken for granted. Even when we face difficulties, we can be grateful for the opportunity to grow.
Understanding that we are all one, a humble person is thankful for everyone’s blessings. Rather than envying someone else’s success and good fortune, he is able to admire and congratulate them sincerely.
Because he is not looking for faults, a humble person offers praise and compliments others readily. At the same time, he accepts criticism with gratitude — rather than becoming defensive or making excuses.
Humility promotes self-discipline, a trait common among individuals we normally consider successful. Research on humility shows that it improves one’s ability to resist temptation, and boosts perseverance through difficult tasks.
For one who takes joy in serving others, happiness is not dependent on the satisfaction of various desires. Humility provides clarity and focus by unfastening the fetters of selfish pursuit for our own comfort, gain and pleasure. It gives us the perspective to correctly differentiate between needs and wants, and to judge how our actions will affect others.
A humble person has modest needs, seldom indulges, and does not go to extremes. Rather than trying to control others, he controls himself.
Humility helps us take life as it comes. Understanding that the ultimate control over everything is in the hands of a power much greater than our own, a humble person patiently wades through inconveniences and pain, accepting the good and the bad as part of a balanced and changing life.
Anger and hatred serve no one, so he has no use for them. Instead, he is calm and collected, steadfast and strong.
One of the hardest things for proud and arrogant people to do is to admit when they are wrong. Humility gives us the confidence to admit our mistakes, learn from them, and offer an apology without hesitation, because we are not trying to maintain a facade of perfection.
Humble people also give credit where it is due, recognizing that most successes are a team effort.
Most importantly, a humble person is true to himself. He recognizes his strengths and weaknesses, does not pretend to be someone he isn’t, and looks hard at his own faults so as to correct them.
How can one liberate the many?
By first liberating his own being.
He does this not by elevating himself, but by lowering himself.
He lowers himself that that which is simple, modest, true.
Integrating it into himself, he becomes a master of simplicity, modesty, truth.Lao Tzu
Humility fosters a child-like sense of wonder — because once we realize we don’t know everything, we start to understand that we really don’t know anything at all. Everything around us becomes fascinating, and every experience becomes an interesting learning opportunity.
One sign of humility is the willingness to ask questions — not the prying, gossipy kind — but the ones that expose your ignorance, and might even make you look dumb.
There is so very little we understand about this life on earth. No matter how much one person knows about this and another person knows about that, it is merely a drop in the ocean. Wisdom depends not on how much we know, but on the perspective and values with which we interpret things. Exercising good judgment is true wisdom.
For some very wise people, humility may seem effortless; but for many of us, keeping our ego in check is a serious, continuous challenge. If you wish to cultivate humility, there are a number of activities that can help keep you moving towards this noble goal.
Nature has the ability to put things into perspective. From the vast and powerful ocean to the extraordinary intricacy of a single feather, nature helps us step outside of ourselves and appreciate life with wonder and awe. Take every opportunity to observe harmony and perfection in nature.
Look for the good in people, praise and compliment them
Everyone has his or her unique personality and character traits. We have different strengths and weaknesses, and we all make mistakes. When someone disappoints you, focus on their good qualities. Let them know what you like about them, and they will give you more of it. This not only helps them to improve, it makes life more tolerable for those who have to deal with them.
Spend time with children
Children take us back to a time of purity and innocence. When we are with them, we remember what it is like to see through young, unjaded eyes, and recapture the magic of everything around us. Play with and listen to a tiny tot, and you will learn much more than you can teach.
Find opportunities to help others
Humility is all about considering others. Whether it be volunteering, teaching, listening or giving, look for ways to help others regularly. Shifting your focus from your own needs to those of others is the best way to maintain a ‘modest perspective’ of your own significance.
Ask questions and accept help
Knowledge and wisdom are two different things. A wise person learns by asking questions, and will eventually surpass the one who “knows everything.” Let go of your fear of looking stupid and open your mind to exploration and discovery.
Be thankful for all that you have
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be just an annual holiday. Remind yourself not to feel entitled by keeping a gratitude journal, where you consider how all kinds of things and people have touched your life. You will likely find that we are all perfectly intertwined in this incredible web of existence — a truly humbling thought.