The sun shines with equal brightness on each of us. It shines no more brightly on you, and just as importantly, it shines on you as brightly as others. Humility is the realization that although we are each very special, we are nobody special.
Humility requires us to exercise our dignity without drifting into vanity.
At its core, humility is openness to learning. It is deciding that facts are more real and more important than ego. It is the opposite of ego involvement. It is the decision to overcome the asymmetry of our first-person viewpoint. Humility is recognizing that what matters to you really is as important as what matters to me. Humility provides balance to our confidence.
The book The Power of Humility identifies these twelve characteristics of humility:
- Openness—Poised to learn more about ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Receptive to understanding what is. Willing to change beliefs, opinions, and attitudes as new information is assimilated.
- An attitude of “I don’t know” —If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. Suspend judgment while you continue to learn.
- Curiosity—Wanting to discover what is not known. Exploring more deeply, wanting to learn more.
- Innocence—We never see what does not exist and we always see what does. We are free of our (non-existent) egos.
- A childlike nature—A combination of enthusiasm, openness, innocence, and curiosity,
- Spontaneity—Living authentically in this moment.
- Spirituality—Connecting with all that is beyond ourselves,
- Tolerance—Respecting the beliefs, customs, and practices of ourselves and others,
- Patience—tolerant of delay, annoyance, tedium, or other hardship without complaint,
- Integrity—Wholeness; integrating virtue throughout our character. Integrating our actions and our character. Living as our authentic selves.
- Detachment—Separating from distractions that compromise our own integrity, and
- Letting go—Dismissing our ego involvement. Know that we cannot fix anyone else. Detach from all that we cannot change.
Together these lead to serenity and an inner peace.
The Virtue of Humility
The French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch said “Humility equals truth.” The profound truths of humility—an honesty without illusions—where learning thrives, opinions succumb to facts, dignity prevails, we are equal with others, and hubris is scorned, endow humility with virtue.
Find a healthy and gratifying balance between vanity and servility. Consider adopting some of these simple guidelines to practice humility each day.
- Resist the temptation to prove you are right in conversations.
- Go an entire day without using the words “I”, “me”, or “myself”.
- Resist the temptation to correct the inconsequential errors of others
- Answer “I don’t know” when asked a question you do not know the answer to.
- Learn something new.
- Listen carefully to someone you disagree with until you are able to understand and express their point of view.
- Embrace your own ignorance.
- Choose dialogue over debate. Suspend judgment while you continue to learn.
- Avoid or concede dominance contests.
- Minimize your use of jewelry, makeup, and trendy fashions.
- Adams, Robert Merrihew (2009). A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-0199552252.
- Gunn, Cameron (2010). Ben & Me: From Temperance to Humility--Stumbling Through Ben Franklin's Thirteen Virtues,One Unvirtuous Day at a Time. Perigee Trade. p. 272. ISBN 978-0399536076.
- Whitfield, Charles; Whitfield, Barbara; Park, Russell; Prevett, Jeneane (2006). The Power of Humility: Choosing Peace over Conflict in Relationships. HCI. p. 180. ISBN 978-0757303999.
- Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. p. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567.
Students interested in learning more about the virtues of humility may be interested in the following materials: