What is humility?

There are two people I know of who embody what it means to be humble. One is Guru Nanak Dev ji, the first guru in Sikhi. The other is the Dalai Lama.

It’s tough to be humble, because it means we have to actively battle our ego. And in the Western world, we are taught that ego is important. We’re taught that to be successful, you have to massage your ego. You have to massage other people’s ego. You have to assuage yourself to other people’s ego. Ego is what makes the world go round.

We’re taught that if you’re humble, you don’t value yourself. Humility is for the weak, and for the naive. Ego keeps you strong and competitive. Ego will earn you that promotion. Ego will get you that bonus. Ego will win the heart of fair maiden.

So when we read about / learn about / experience humility, it can often be an alien thing. It’s often met with a healthy dose of scepticism. It seems being met by people who can and are humble throws us off. What’s your ulterior motive?

There’s plenty of reasons why we find it difficult to accept that someone chooses not to acknowledge what they’ve achieved. It goes against conventional wisdom and all self help books. No one really talks about being humble.

It’s all about “Be your best self”, and “help others”, and “seek first to understand”, and “believe in yourself”. Which is great, and empathetic, and selfless. But is it humble?

We’re living in an age where humility has little to do with daily life. If I don’t take credit for the work I’ve done, then what’s the point in living?

I probably believe in humility to a fault. I always have done. I also believe in shouting about my own success. It’s a paradox living my life. What I know is that when I share responsibility for an achievement, it’s not because I don’t believe in myself, it’s because I don’t want anyone feeling excluded. When I consider scrutinising a compliment or dismissing it, it’s because I would rather talk about how to enable that in others. I make things happen because of a series of fortunate events that I help to facilitate and negotiate.

Don’t forget, I’m paradoxical about this too. I do make things happen, and I don’t apologise for that. I’m happy and proud about things I achieve. Being humble about what I do, for me, is acknowledging that this is the way of life. I work to do things, but this does not equate needing to shout to the everyone and anyone who will listen about them.

Is this also, I wonder, about the British ‘stiff upper lip’ at play? No, because the connotations of that infer that displaying emotion in public is undesirable which I don’t believe at all.

There is something about humility which shows our true nature, and that can be scary for others. It shows us being vulnerable. It shows us being with heart. It shows us embracing choice. It shows us diversity. It shows potential. It shows courage.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “What is humility?”

  1. Good morning Sukh

    You ask, ‘If I don’t take credit for the work I’ve done, then what’s the point in living?’ I can’t help but feel life that would be so much more rewarding if we could co-create an environment where you were given credit rather than having to take it. If taking credit defines someone to that extent, then I think humility is a long way off the plan.

    You add, ‘We’re taught that if you’re humble, you don’t value yourself.’ Whilst I think historic definitions of humble lean towards having a modest view of one’s own importance, I’m not sure that’s the same as not valuing yourself. I’ve seen people show what I perceive to be humility, and it can have great power, and huge value. Modesty, a lack of pride and vanity (all cited as other definitions of humility), do not, to me at least, equate to someone not valuing themselves.

    Confused dot com.

    1. Hi Doug,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and seek clarity.

      I think the previous statement to that question helps gives context to why I posed the question. I’m actually with you in what you’ve said. Co-creation of activities engenders a giving of credit where it’s due. What’s important for me in that is that we cultivate that mindset.

      It’s a fair challenge on the other statement. I guess I’m weighing this against the rhetoric I hear about how power wins, and personal attribution of that power is paramount. If I show kindness then I can’t win. I know it’s rubbish, and the truth is much stronger, but it’s the rhetoric which many hold true.

      I hope that helps?

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