Life Lessons: Humility

Do we all become increasingly aware as we become older that life requires an abundance of humility from us, or is that me alone? My instinct tells me it can’t be my own world that suggests  this inherent need for humility. At the first signs of this phenomenon, when humility was only a wriggling entity sticking its head from beneath a desk, I thought perhaps the lesson was a chance encounter, an anomaly, a freak occurrence. However, as I continue to live out my daily life, humility has continued to struggle out from under the desk, and today, it stands before me a full-bodied, powerful master.

I was plowing through some required reading for my course at the university the other day when I ran across humility in an unexpected way. It shocked me to find the lesson of humility in an academic text, one all about research methods and case studies and the like. The text advised that when an academic case study is being reported, even if we think our study absolutely, ninety-nine percent proof positive proves our original hypothesis, we should never use the word “prove.” Instead, we should settle for the less aggressive forms of conclusion, such as “suggest” or “indicate.” While the author didn’t go off on a tangent about humility in direct fashion, the suggestion of a lesson in humility was present.

Why did it shock me to find the suggestion of humility in an academic text? Well, I still don’t know if I am sure. It isn’t exactly as if the lesson of humility isn’t common. I suppose it’s the context the lesson was being presented to me in that shocked me. For instance, I would not have been shocked if I had attended a church service and found the sermon’s central lesson for that service was humility. Faith of varying types encourages us to be humble, always willing to learn we are wrong, mistaken, misguided, overly prideful. Even in conversation with a friend, co-worker, or loved one, I don’t believe I’d be surprised to stumble across a discussion of humility. The mere existence of a relationship with other people encourages us to encourage others to be better people. My point—humility might come up, and it wouldn’t be so shocking.

The context freaked me out. Okay. So now what? The freak out was good because it reminded me that humility isn’t a mere guideline for not being an arrogant, aggressive, individual that everyone secretly wants to get out of the room. It’s an attribute we can choose to don our entire life, whether or not we choose to do so. It seems to me that our awareness of humility increases as we get older, so that’s why it seems as if the realization that life requires an abundance of humility becomes more prevalent.

Of course, all this discussion serves to do is to make me wonder why it is we start to become more aware of humility and the need to employ it in our life as we get older? Perhaps, as children, we assume and are comfortable with the idea that everyone else knows more than us (at least anyone older), so we don’t feel the need to puff ourselves up unnecessarily? I can’t remember if I fell into more traps of pride when I was younger or now that I am older, though. I do know that once I’ve held a position of any sort for a considerable length of time, or once I have studied a certain subject for an extended length of time, I become a little more comfortable than I should be. I assume I’m the expert, or I know all there is to know, or that other people simply don’t understand it quite the way I do.

Well, of course, this tangent of thinking left me aghast at how much I equate humility with intellectual matters, when of course, humility is so much more connected with identity than intellect. In a way, being humble is leaving space for others instead of taking up all of the available space with our own identity. A feeling of elevated importance requires a lot of space. In the most dramatic sense, though, most of us are not willing to claim ourselves more important than others in a direct way—for instance, if a man pulled out a gun and threatened two people, telling them that one of them would die and each person must tell him why their life is more important that the life of the other, what would we say that mattered? Would we be able to speak at all? Would we be able to sit there and tell someone our life was more important than the life of another? Even if we did, it would likely happen as a result of fear, not coming from a genuine review of facts. No, we are all much less direct about our arrogance.

Living humbly must be more simple than all this I’m rattling on about. It must be in the small choices that fill our days. When we decide to offer the last seat to a stranger, when we take less than our share, when we answer a question with the admission we are speaking from our experience and not a place of ultimate authority, and when we choose to check our judgments about people for at least a few minutes while we get a sense of their person. Sure, there is something to be said for taking our impressions of our own intellect down a few notches, but that’s not all that humility is about.

Much of the writing I do is a process in itself, a journey to figure out what I think about a particular idea. In this way, I think I’ve taken the appearance of humility in my academic studies as a chance to explore how humility has increased its level of power in my life personally. No longer is it a mere wisp of thought under the desk, but it’s an attribute I long to employ in my life. My goal is to strive for humility in all areas of my life, and I am sure the benefits of doing so will be massive. In fact, I wish it is a goal I can say I honestly held before this time in my life. My hope, I suppose, is that these ramblings will encourage those younger than me to strive for humility in their life sooner, earlier, and with real desire.

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