“Only great humility and great love allow one to obtain the Great Power, Which is the same as the Power of Tao (the power of the Way).” Lao Tzu
“Happy are the humble: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus
Humility. The very word grates on some people because they have a false concept of it. Apparently, some people think that humility and self-deprecation are one and the same and that to be humble you have to be a doormat. No. No. And NO. That is NOT the meaning of humility.
According to Merriam-Webster’s humility is FREEDOM from pride or arrogance.
Wait a minute. Pride and arrogance are things from which we need to be freed? Yes, in the sense that pride and arrogance (which is an extreme sense of self importance and desire to be adored and admired by others) are the cultivation, preservation and exaltation of self esteem and importance. Constantly, being a slave to “looking good,” is definitely a type of bondage.
To obtain a sense of humility then is to obtain a type of freedom. What exactly IS that freedom? It’s the independence of not needing to prove yourself to anyone, to not need praise or approval. That doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate it when it comes, merely that you don’t need it or crave it and it’s the freedom from having to look good (be approved of) in the eyes of others. I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “A great man is always willing to be little.”
Here’s an example. Once upon a time in ancient Israel, a teenager named David went out to the battlefield to take food and wine to his brothers who were in the army. He was just a scrawny kid, a shepherd, a nobody from nowhere. Nobody looked up to him or respected him. He had no claim to fame. While being an errand boy to his brothers, a giant came out and made fun of the entire Israeli army. David was appalled and asked something like, “Who is this guy and why doesn’t anyone stand up to him?” His brothers were embarrassed by his naive presumption that somebody ought to put this terrifying threat in his place. David then said he’d go fight that giant and his brother’s accused him of being arrogant! But nothing was further from the truth. Human approval meant so little to the boy that he was willing to lay his life on the line to do what he believed was the right thing to do. People laughed at David. They ridiculed him. If there was any pride or arrogance in him at the moment, he would have backed down, but he didn’t.
David cared more about being true to what he knew was right than about what society said or what anyone thought of him. Pride doesn’t do that. Pride wants to look good and get accolades. Pride likes to have a little “worship” from others and craves approval.
David went out to face the most terrifying foe in his world, armed with the simplicity of a shepherd (seriously, the kid had a pouch full of rocks!). The enemy came at David with the best armor the world had to offer at that time. He was superior and he bragged about his superiority. David had only his simple faith, “I come to you in the name of the Lord,” he said. There was no bragging about his own might or ability. But he was confident in the source of his strength.
David ran to the battlefield in humility, just doing what he needed to do where he was at. He had nothing to prove and nothing to lose (well, except his life). That is humility. He wasn’t thinking about himself, but about his God and about his people. If you have ever read the story then you already know that David slung his stone, which struck Goliath in the head and knocked him down.Then David ran over, picked up the giant’s sword and beheaded him with his own weapon. When the opposing army saw how a youngster had defeated a seasoned champion, they were terrified and fled the battlefield with the armies of Israel hot on their trail. If David had been engulfed in “pride” or concern over how he looked in the eyes of everybody else, the battle would never have been won.
It’s worth noting that the person who demands that they be noticed, adores and admired is arrogant, but so is the person who won’t do things because they’re worried that they might “look bad” in front of other people. That is still a type of pride. Arrogance often wears the disguise of politeness and nice-ness.
Being shy or reserved does not equate with humility. Doing everything within your power to keep from standing out does not equate with humility, either. For example, the person who gets on stage and sings his heart out, knowing that he may fall flat on his face or be laughed off stage, exhibits more humility than the musician who worries what others will say and keeps his music all to himself. The artist who never shares her work is more prideful than the one who allows herself to be vulnerable and shares it with the world in hopes of touching someone’s life. It’s not about whether we’re center stage or not. It’s about motivation. A closet narcissist is still a narcissist; they’re just better at disguising their pride in the garments of false humility.
Consider the following true story that I once witnessed.
I was in a group where a gentleman was asked to sing a song. The man stood up and protested, “Oh, I’m not very good at singing,” he was digging in his pocket for his song as he spoke. “I’m just a poor man who does his best, and…” he was now making his way to the platform in the front of the room, “Y’all just listen to the words and not to why I sing them.” He walked with his eyes toward the ground, showing us all that he was shy and humble. Once on the platform, he dispelled other self-depreciating words to let us know what a humble person he was. People were nodding with softened and sympathetic expressions, but something bothered me about the entire episode. Then it hit me. This man was not humble at all. He was PROUD. That’s right; he was proud of his own perceived piety! He was proud of his humility. He wanted everyone to know that he was humble and therefore, spiritual. I almost laughed. Real humility doesn’t need recognition or fan-fare. So what would have been the truly humble response? Easy. He would just gotten up, walked up front, said something like, “I hope you enjoy this song.” Then he would have sung it and gone back to his seat. The most humble thing he could have said would have been thank you. “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” – Martin Luther
Humility simply means that you are secure enough in who you are and in what you believe that you have nothing to prove to anybody, you don’t feel the need to impress anybody and you are able to use the god-given gifts or life-skills you’ve acquired to betterment of humanity without needing accolades or praise. This spiritual principle or law is expressed when Jesus said that the greatest among us was the one who willingly served others, not the one who demanded to be served. The greatest leader is the servant. “…avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men. “– Lao-tzu
If you want others to find you interesting, show interest in them. If you want others to appreciate you, appreciate them. If you want to make a difference in the world, lay aside your concern over the way you appear, your need for approval and let the gifts within you come forth. An apple tree doesn’t care what it looks like, it simply produces apples. It doesn’t matter that some people my not like apples or that others may say the apples or the tree itself are ugly or disgusting or they may ridicule the tree. The truth is that fruit provides nourishment to wildlife and passersby and the tree itself provides shelter for many life-forms. Humility is simply bearing your fruit in this world and being what you were made to be without regards to praise or criticisms.
I close with a quote from Rick Warren, a California pastor, who said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”