Humility

“In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” – Benjamin Franklin

Humility ranked so highly on Benjamin Franklin’s priority list that he declared it one of the thirteen virtues that he pursued throughout most of his life.  It is a trait that many great individuals throughout history have wrestled with; as seen in Franklin’s quote above, pride (and its relative traits) are always lurking below the surface, especially as individuals rise in prominence.  This is why Coach John Wooden continually told his players that “Humility is the antidote to pride,” a reminder which we should all keep in mind.

Humility is not a sign of meekness or self-deprecation, nor does it mean that you ignore your own strengths or desires.  Rather, as C. S. Lewis (and others) have often stated, “People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”  A humble person is comfortable in their own skin, and does not feel compelled to continually prove themselves to others.  A humble person is willing to celebrate the success of others, and is more open to the ideas and thoughts of others.  And while humility must be practiced by the individual, it will inspire loyalty to and from others while promoting cohesiveness between individuals.

Does humility work?  Absolutely.  Take George Washington as just one of the many examples which can be pulled from history.  In his early years, Washington was known as being extremely proud, vain, and self-serving, taking pleasure in his appearance and the company it placed him it.  As he continued through life, however, he realize a need to change course, placing greater emphasis on serving others rather than serving himself as he began to see the danger it represented.  Coincidentally, the more he served others, the more valuable he became to those around him.  Whereas his pride threatened to destroy his life, humility saved it, and by extreme extension, the American Revolution.

So how can you work on developing humility?

  • Acknowledge, as Franklin and others have, that the journey is never-ending.
  • Focus the spotlight onto other people.  As President Harry Truman once remarked, “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.”
  • Be “real”.  Let your imperfections be seen.  Admit your mistakes.  Doing so will allow those around you to better relate and connect with you, and it will also foster an environment in which they too feel safe and secure in their imperfections.
  • Seek to understand, not to be understood.  Ask questions instead of making statements.
  • Don’t micromanage others.
  • Have a sense of humor, specially about yourself.
  • Stay “rooted”.  Whether it be a close loved one or a small, intimate group of friends and colleagues, have people around you who keep you grounded and your mindset focused on what really matters.
  • Remember where you came from.  Even highly successful individuals can rise from humble beginnings: Warren Buffett was a paper boy, Oprah Winfrey worked in a grocery store, and Barack Obama scoped ice cream.

In closing, a quote on perspective from John Andrew Holmes which should hopefully inspire humility: “Remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.”

Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is the co-owner of Appalachian Digital, a website development agency.  He is also a Lead Systems Analyst with the Cleveland Clinic Healthcare System.  You can contact Jeremiah at JClark390@gmail.com or connect with him on LinkedIn at Jeremiah Clark.