Humility: My Search for Its Meaning

Humility is cited as important in so many leadership books, blogs, You Tube videos, etc., not only for leaders, but for human beings in any role.  When I looked up the definition of “humility”, I really did not like what I found.  Here is a typical definition: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.” 

Humility before nature

I dug deeper and found a description I liked much better on the Via Institute on Character website.  Here is the link for the full description:  https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths/humility

Humility: a deeper truth than the dictionary

In my opinion, this blog gives an understandable and usable definition:

  • Accurate self-Assessment
  • Recognition of limitations
  • Forgetting of self
  • Keeping accomplishments in perspective
  • No need to present ourselves as better than we actually are
  • Do not distort information to defend or verify our own image

I really liked this definition/description because it gave me a better idea of actions that actually demonstrate humility.

Humility is selflessness

Humility is an interesting paradox: as soon as we say, “I am humble,” we just jumped out of humility!  We can also take humility to the extreme, where we fall into a victim mindset, self-loathing, low self-esteem, unworthiness…the list goes on.  This mindset can lead to a struggle with building social bonds which are an important piece of our well-being. 

Some words that describe the opposite of humility are: narcissism, sense of entitlement, arrogance, egotistical, envious, conceited, etc.

Gratitude and Humility are closely connected.  You really can not have one with out the other!  Humility paves the way for gratitude.  Feeling connected to and being a part of something bigger helps us to find that place of gratitude and humbleness. 

When do we feel most humble? 

For each of us, it might be something different.  Here are some examples:

  • Being in nature (swimming in the ocean and experiencing its massiveness, climbing a mountain and experiencing the magnitude)
  • Experiencing something magical (the birth of a child)
  • Serving others

Who comes to mind, when you think of great examples of living a humble life?

How do we strive to live with humility?  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Adopt a continuous learning mindset (I don’t know everything or anything!)
  • Think of your point of view as only one point of view
  • Acknowledge your reality as your reality and not other’s reality
  • Stay in a Win-Win mindset
  • Let go of control
  • Give to others
  • Have the courage to acknowledge when you are wrong or made a mistake
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Judge all experiences as learning experiences versus right/wrong or good/bad
  • Practice:
    • Forgiveness
    • Compassion
    • Patience
    • Tolerance

Mother Teresa’s 15 Ways of Humility:

  1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
  2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not the affairs of others.
  3. Avoid curiosity and gossip.
  4. Do not interfere with the affair of others.
  5. Accept irritations with good humor.
  6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
  7. Accept censures even if unmerited. (Censures are punishments or imprisonments or difficulties).
  8. Give in to the will of others and not your own will.
  9. Accept insults and injuries.
  10. Accept being forgotten and disregarded.
  11. Be courteous and even when provoked by someone.
  12. Do not seek to be admired, praised or loved.
  13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
  14. Give in in discussions even when you are right.
  15. Choose always the more difficult path.
Humility joins, pride divides

Humility is more about a way of being in any given moment, especially the challenging moments in life.  We can have days where we are more humble than others.  My thoughts are that as human beings, it is a constant struggle to find and practice humility, especially in our society that is focused more on self-centeredness.

Leadership Challenge:  Questions to Consider

  • Who do I want to be in this moment?
  • Reflect on what humility means to you?
  • How can you demonstrate humility with the people you lead?
  • Who can you praise today for doing a great job?
  • How can you serve others at work, in your community, in your own home?

One Comment

  1. I enjoyed this article. I love the quote; “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” I can’t say that I agree with all of Mother Teresa’s 15 Way’s to Humility…but I am humble enough to consider the source and re-visit her list with a more open mind. Thank you Marguerite for your insights…this is a character trait the world needs more of. Karyn Ruth White

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