The Modern Lie About Humility
In second grade, I lived down the street from a set of twins that were my classmates. One day, they told me their parents thought I was too boastful. I was upset about it. I actually remember crying myself to sleep! Since that day, I have been self-conscious about humility. Figuring out how to be humble has been a struggle for me. My entire life, people have regularly considered me “headstrong”, “proud”, “boastful”, and “confident”. There are likely situations in which I go overboard, but here is the deal: the modern concept of humility is a lie.
I Have Accomplished Some Awesome Things
I could make a mile long list of the things I have done that get me excited, make me smile from cheek to cheek, or rustle up feelings inside me that make be believe I could take on Ndamakong Suh. For your sake (and possibly mine, since Suh is huge), I will refrain. However, I will say one. My most recent accomplishment that makes me proud is finishing the law school portion of my joint degree. It is an amazing feat! I am excited to join a club that includes many founding fathers, great philosophers, and a host of modern scholars/businesspeople. There is a sense of dignity, respect, and trust associated with those who have received their jurisdoctorate. People expect a level of knowledge and wisdom out of you that they do not expect from others. It is awesome to achieve!
The Lie—False Humility
I noticed many of my fellow law students shrugging off my congratulations to them, as if it were no big deal that they had just finished law school. Often, people receiving compliments for doing awesome things shrug them off. “Thanks, but it was really nothing” or some variation of that lie comes out of our mouths. This is what society has led us to believe being humble is.
It is a lie. Finishing law school really is special. Working two jobs as a single mother to support your family really is special. Giving up 5 hours of your week to volunteer really is special. Living a chaste life really is special. Fighting for a good cause really is special. Spending every day teaching our youth really is special. People are how they act. The diminishment of action is a diminishment of the human person. Lying and diminishing your accomplishments, diminishes your worth.
You probably get the idea. Everybody has something to be proud of—and it is not humble to downplay it. It is a lie. You damage yourself and anybody who hears it.
Real Ways to Be Humble
1. Pass on the credit
When somebody else deserves some of the credit for your accomplishments, make sure they get it. My parents, my wife, my friends, my professors, and my classmates all deserve a portion of the credit for my completion of the jurisdoctorate. I would not have wanted to do it without their love and support. In all instances, I can (and probably should) also pass the credit to God for breathing me into existence, holding me there, and endowing me with the gifts necessary to make it through law school. While passing on the credit might diminish my role in the accomplishment, it does not diminish the accomplishment.
2. Celebrate Everybody Else’s Accomplishments
The biggest struggle I have with humility, and often the least practiced/contemplated, is the expression of excitement over other people’s accomplishments. Many of us are arrogant, “that’s good, but I would have done better.” Some of us are envious, “good for them, but they started from a better position than me.” Arrogance (pride) and envy are the true enemies of humility. How would you want somebody else to celebrate your accomplishments? That is how you should be celebrating theirs. Do not let your big head get in the way. Celebrate in joy and happiness for whatever great thing they have done!
If somebody is continually pointing out good things to you that they have done, they are probably just in need of some affirmation. Give it to them. Seeking this reassurance is likely indicative of a lower self-esteem, rather than high self-esteem. If you are the person that is continually asking for affirmation, start looking for places to celebrate other people’s accomplishments. When you start to give value to the actions of others, it is inherent that you will start to see the value in your own actions. If you are in a place where you do not think you do anything awesome, find two awesome things a day that others are doing and congratulate them on it. It will change your life.
3. Forgive People
True forgiveness requires a person to forget the sin. “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” actually means the forgiver is not “forgiving” the other person. I think it takes a lot of humility to forgive others for their wrongs. The logic behind forgiveness requires you to first admit your own sin. None of us are perfect, thus forgiveness is necessary in our relationships.
There are two good responses to, “Wow, great job!” and similar compliments:
1. Yeah, you know what! It really was a great job…let’s go get a beer (unless you are under 21, then ice cream should be used)!
2. Well, I can’t take all the credit…[insert where credit is due]. (Still admits it was a great job).
If somebody has accomplished something great, or deserves some recognition, let them know what a good job they are doing. That is real humility. Being able to forgive people that have done you wrong also requires a great deal of humility.