Quote of the Day: The Loss of Humility

 

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

The quality of humility has taken an onslaught of attacks in our current political and cultural environment. This attribute is often described as a sign of weakness, acquiescence, and passivity. It is gravely misunderstood and unappreciated. Yet it is one part of the foundation of a successful and ethical society:

Humility is a core value in many ancient ethical and theological frameworks. The Confucian form of humility, for example, is profoundly other oriented in spirit, consistently valuing the social good over the satisfaction of our individual aspirations. In this ancient Chinese form, humility can significantly enhance social cohesion and our sense of belonging.

The Greek philosopher Socrates held that wisdom is, above all, knowing what we don’t know. He taught an intellectual form of humility that freely acknowledges the gaps in our knowledge and that humbly seeks to address our blind spots.

Aristotle understood humility as a moral virtue, sandwiched between the vices of arrogance and moral weakness. Like Socrates, he believed that humility must include accurate self-knowledge and a generous acknowledgment of the qualities of others that avoids distortion and extremes.

Given the lack of rigor, facts, self-reflection, and intellectual honesty that is showing up in our times, it’s no surprise that humility is denigrated as a characteristic not only to be avoided, but overcome.

A key element of humility is a focus on the other:

While other-orientedness is a core interpersonal feature of humility, Tangney (2009) has identified six intrapersonal aspects of humility:

  • A willingness to see ourselves truthfully
  • An accurate perception of our place in the world
  • An ability to acknowledge our mistakes and limitations
  • Openness
  • Low self-focus
  • An appreciation of the value of all things

(I suspect that the last aspect points to appreciating that all things may offer benefits to be considered, rather than our choosing to reject an idea because it doesn’t precisely fit our narrative.)

The practice of humility requires a high level of commitment and responsibility for our own lives:

We need to begin by developing an accurate understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. Then we must own our imperfections. When we do, we no longer have to waste our energy hiding them from others, but can instead seek to learn to live with them productively or even to overcome them.

As with any positive attribute, humility can be misused and abused:

The Jewish moralists are fully aware that any conscious attempt to attain humility is always self-defeating and that pride can masquerade as humility. Crude vanity and self-glorification are easily recognized for what they are. Mock modesty is less easy to detect. It is not unusual for a man to take pride in his humility; nor is it unknown for a man to indulge in the more subtle form of self-deception in which he prides himself that he is not a victim of false modesty.

*     *     *

It seems that the radical Left has violated every premise of humility to attain their agenda: they will not admit their mistakes, their lies, or their distortions. They have no regard for those they serve or for those who do not agree with them, and have no interest in developing relationships with those who do not share their ideas. They are incapable (from appearances) of self-reflection and truth-seeking. They believe their ideas are impervious to challenges. The President himself is confident that he can threaten any person or organization that gets in his way, including high-tech and oil refineries.

We on the political Right, however, should have a growing concern regarding our own commitment to humility. Are we capable of experiencing it, given the daily attacks we fight from the political Left? Are we focused on our constituents and not on our own desires? Does humility work against us as we try to maintain an ethical and honorable society?

We might believe that the arrogance and rigidity of the Left, coupled with the absence of humility, may one day lead to their downfall.

But will we be far behind?

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  1. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    Andrew Murray defined humility as the absence of self. Interesting thoughts; any self-reflection that is grounded in honesty should lead us to a greater sense of humility. A right sense of humility would seem a more restful place for our thoughts and wonderings.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    WiesbadenJake (View Comment):

    Andrew Murray defined humility as the absence of self. Interesting thoughts; any self-reflection that is grounded in honesty should lead us to a greater sense of humility. A right sense of humility would seem a more restful place for our thoughts and wonderings.

    Well said. I find myself wondering if it’s possible to remain humble in these times with the never-ending attacks from the Left. Is it possible to experience humility when you must rally your own righteous anger to fight an enemy? Does humility play a role in our assessing our adversaries honestly, realizing the barriers we will encounter, and moving forward anyway? It’s a real challenge in my eyes.

    • #2
  3. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    But it’s hard to be humble when one is always right, isn’t it?

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    But it’s hard to be humble when one is always right, isn’t it?

    Ah, the burden the Left must shoulder . . . 

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    My first post was about the humility of the one indispensable man.

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Percival (View Comment):

    My first post was about the humility of the one indispensable man.

    A perfect addition to this post. Thanks, P.

    • #6
  7. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    WiesbadenJake (View Comment):

    Andrew Murray defined humility as the absence of self. Interesting thoughts; any self-reflection that is grounded in honesty should lead us to a greater sense of humility. A right sense of humility would seem a more restful place for our thoughts and wonderings.

    Well said. I find myself wondering if it’s possible to remain humble in these times with the never-ending attacks from the Left. Is it possible to experience humility when you must rally your own righteous anger to fight an enemy? Does humility play a role in our assessing our adversaries honestly, realizing the barriers we will encounter, and moving forward anyway? It’s a real challenge in my eyes.

    This is the conundrum, isn’t it. I have no answer for this. I think humility would make us less likely to write off or diminish the humanity of those we disagree with; humility would lead us to less disappointment that that grace is not returned. I am not sure that in our current environment it would enhance our chances of victory. It would appear tha the current left’s lust for victory and humiliation of the right would embrace victory only, no matter how pyrrhic. That is an adversary that is difficult to beat.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    When I think personally about my own humility, I’m a bit flummoxed. I honestly think I’m too insecure to look at humility in my life. It’s like, I know there are things I do well, but lots of people probably do those things better. I rarely feel the need to lord it over someone else (unless it’s my husband!). And in fact, I’m sometimes envious of the incredible writing we have on this site. Since I try to look at opportunities to learn and grow, and realize how far I have to go (!), that keeps me pretty humble–and excited. 

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    WiesbadenJake (View Comment):
    This is the conundrum, isn’t it. I have no answer for this. I think humility would make us less likely to write off or diminish the humanity of those we disagree with; humility would lead us to less disappointment that that grace is not returned. I am not sure that in our current environment it would enhance our chances of victory. It would appear tha the current left’s lust for victory and humiliation of the right would embrace victory only, no matter how pyrrhic. That is an adversary that is difficult to beat.

    I’ve been reading Douglas Murray’s book, The War on the West, and it is so easy for me to be condescending toward people who believe the insanity of the Left. Then I move to a baffled state. And then finally to terror. Trying to stay in a state of openness and humility, when others so disregard us, is a challenge.

    • #9
  10. zandertunz Member
    zandertunz
    @zandertunz

    This begins to answer a question I often ask myself:  Why do we on the right-ish side of things seem so much more eager to have balanced debates and allow facts and demonstrable history and outcomes to inform decisions (As opposed to those who have anchored themselves to glorious theories that have proven themselves a failure)? Or in other words, why can’t we even just talk about it?

    Instead we seem to suffer public ridicule and are banned from even implying that the conventional (read ‘liberal’) wisdom on certain topics is not true. 

    I feel this understanding of the virtue and exercise of genuine humility could inform a piece of the answer to that question. Unfortunately, adopting a humble perspective cannot be demanded. It can only be achieved through some deeper kind of self realization. As for me, I believe Providence plays a big part in that kind of transformation. 

    As Susan implies, we must be careful to hold to and model such virtuous humility without discarding it through desperation to bring an opposing view forward. That’s a tall order in the midst of clearly rampant hostility. God, help us. 

    • #10
  11. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    That CS Lewis quotation is one of my favorites.  I recall reading that about 25 years ago (when I was in my mid-20s) and being quite moved and humbled by it.

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    zandertunz (View Comment):
    Instead we seem to suffer public ridicule and are banned from even implying that the conventional (read ‘liberal’) wisdom on certain topics is not true. 

    Great comment, Z. I think we misinterpret other virtues (such as fairness) and allow them to determine our actions. We’ve forgotten about courage, persistence, and the importance of not letting others lead us around, just because they are louder than we are. We have to get tougher skins and disregard those who label us and condemn us. Justice is on our side, and to give in to fear is not acceptable.

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Justin Other Lawyer (View Comment):

    That CS Lewis quotation is one of my favorites. I recall reading that about 25 years ago (when I was in my mid-20s) and being quite moved and humbled by it.

    What is lovely is that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks quoted him. Wisdom abounds.

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    zandertunz (View Comment):

    This begins to answer a question I often ask myself: Why do we on the right-ish side of things seem so much more eager to have balanced debates and allow facts and demonstrable history and outcomes to inform decisions (As opposed to those who have anchored themselves to glorious theories that have proven themselves a failure)? Or in other words, why can’t we even just talk about it?

    Instead we seem to suffer public ridicule and are banned from even implying that the conventional (read ‘liberal’) wisdom on certain topics is not true.

    I feel this understanding of the virtue and exercise of genuine humility could inform a piece of the answer to that question. Unfortunately, adopting a humble perspective cannot be demanded. It can only be achieved through some deeper kind of self realization. As for me, I believe Providence plays a big part in that kind of transformation.

    As Susan implies, we must be careful to hold to and model such virtuous humility without discarding it through desperation to bring an opposing view forward. That’s a tall order in the midst of clearly rampant hostility. God, help us.

    Being convicted of the truth of one’s own position is not failing to be humble. That’s what I get out of the Lewis quote.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Stina (View Comment):
    Being convicted of the truth of one’s own position is not failing to be humble. That’s what I get out of the Lewis quote.

    I think you are in agreement with each other. In part, we need to look at how we hold our position in regard to one who opposes us. At least, I think that’s true.

    • #15
  16. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    An excellent topic.  I’ve thought recently that humility is what is missing in the public arena and sad to say, I don’t think any particular segment is any less or more humble than the rest.  

    I don’t think humility comes naturally to us.  

     

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):
    I don’t think humility comes naturally to us.  

    Good point, Lawst! I think our primal nature calls us to be aggressive and forthright in order to survive and thrive. Humility doesn’t necessarily help in those efforts. This is the reason we have religion and G-d.

    • #17
  18. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    I started noticing a few years ago that popular music had become full of narcissism.  It inspired this parody of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” incorporating the lyrics from some of these songs.  Sorry for the formatting.

    “Modesty”

    If you search for narcissism, It isn’t hard to find, Just listen to the words on the radio

    But if you look for modesty, You might just as well give up, It always seems to be so hard to find

    Modesty is such a lonely word, Everyone is self absorbed, Modesty is hardly ever heard,Cause I am so much better than you you

    I can always find someone, If you don’t believe me, just watch, Nodding my head like yeah, I always win and when I come on stage, Everyone puts their hands up, And they stay up, and they stay up

    Modesty is such a lonely word…

    I can’t find a lover, I can’t find a friend, But I’m the one you won’t forget, ‘Cause I’m too hot, hot damn, No-one else can comfort me, I don’t need it anyway, I have my fight song, you know.

    When I’m deep inside of me, Don’t be too concerned, I’m perfectly fine the way I am, But when I want sincerity, Tell me where else can I turn, Cause everyone else is inside too

    Modesty is such a lonely word, Everyone is self absorbed, Modesty is hardly ever heard, Cause I am so much better than you

    • #18
  19. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I think I’ve learned a lot about humility in the last 6-10 years.

    First, I think it’s very difficult to find a balance between self-worth and humility. It’s also a strange ‘goal’ to be “humble” since what happens is the ego gets involved with trying to be humble and it becomes another virtue-signal for ourselves and/or others.

    But we have a perfect recent example of this dilemma. Trump was a guy who is certainly not humble. However he was in a business that demanded ruthless self-promotion and even bravado to convince investors, partners and customers that he’s ‘the guy’. On top of this he chose long ago to employ his surname as a brand, so that made it even more important that he be “out front”.

    There’s the question of whether privately he believes all of the hype, or if it’s just habit and a modus operandi. Yet, watching Trump with foreign leaders, he was always deferential, complimentary and promoting them, which indicated to me that he uses his ego as a tool. It doesn’t entirely consume him.

    I believe one of the biggest reasons people found Trump obnoxious is his relentless self-promotion, which these people see as ‘ego’. It isn’t necessarily ego IMO.

    Biden

    It looked to me that Biden deliberately tried to counter this in the 2020 election by acting humble – sometimes overly humble and deferential for his station as either a Presidential candidate or as Prezident.  (There’s the old joke, Biden… is a humble man, and he has a lot to be humble about.)

    But my experience with Biden’s personality is that he is not in the least humble. Look up any of his speeches during previous campaigns, or his wild claims about his IQ and class rankings. You have to have a pretty high opinion of yourself to engage in serial plagiarism (and a little dumb). Most politicians aren’t humble, but faking humility and being overly deferential as POTUS is not helpful or a good look.

    In many fields it’s important to have high self-regard, and a detriment to be realistically humble. Watching Netflix Formula One just last night, several  drivers were talking about how each believes himself to be the best, and that this faith in one’s own superiority is crucial to winning races. We have to convince ourselves first. So it’s tricky.

    Then there are different fields, so one could believe himself to be the best quarterback or salesman, but consider himself inept in other pursuits and skills. (Me,  I can’t fold laundry …)

    I just wish more people were epistemically humble. Too many people think they “know” something about which they cannot possibly know, and become attached to various notions and wrap their ego around these belief systems to the point where they can’t absorb or accept alternate views or information.

    In that sense, Trump was far more humble than Biden.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Franco (View Comment):

    I think I’ve learned a lot about humility in the last 6-10 years.

    First, I think it’s very difficult to find a balance between self-worth and humility. It’s also a strange ‘goal’ to be “humble” since what happens is the ego gets involved with trying to be humble and it becomes another virtue-signal for ourselves and/or others.

    But we have a perfect recent example of this dilemma. Trump was a guy who is certainly not humble. However he was in a business that demanded ruthless self-promotion and even bravado to convince investors, partners and customers that he’s ‘the guy’. On top of this he chose long ago to employ his surname as a brand, so that made it even more important that he be “out front”.

    There’s the question of whether privately he believes all of the hype, or if it’s just habit and a modus operandi. Yet, watching Trump with foreign leaders, he was always deferential, complimentary and promoting them, which indicated to me that he uses his ego as a tool. It doesn’t entirely consume him.

    I believe one of the biggest reasons people found Trump obnoxious is his relentless self-promotion, which these people see as ‘ego’. It isn’t necessarily ego IMO.

    Biden

    It looked to me that Biden deliberately tried to counter this in the 2020 election by acting humble – sometimes overly humble and deferential for his station as either a Presidential candidate or as Prezident. (There’s the old joke, Biden… is a humble man, and he has a lot to be humble about.)

    But my experience with Biden’s personality is that he is not in the least humble. Look up any of his speeches during previous campaigns, or his wild claims about his IQ and class rankings. You have to have a pretty high opinion of yourself to engage in serial plagiarism (and a little dumb). Most politicians aren’t humble, but faking humility and being overly deferential as POTUS is not helpful or a good look.

    In many fields it’s important to have high self-regard, and a detriment to be realistically humble. Watching Netflix Formula One just last night, several drivers were talking about how each believes himself to be the best, and that this faith in one’s own superiority is crucial to winning races. We have to convince ourselves first. So it’s tricky.

    Then there are different fields, so one could believe himself to be the best quarterback or salesman, but consider himself inept in other pursuits and skills. (Me, I can’t fold laundry …)

    I just wish more people were epistemically humble. Too many people think they “know” something about which they cannot possibly know, and become attached to various notions and wrap their ego around these belief systems to the point where they can’t absorb or accept alternate views or information.

    In that sense, Trump was far more humble than Biden.

    Wow, lots of great sharing! I have no way to judge Trump; his motives are a mystery to me, Franco. But you are right about Biden. The man probably can’t even spell “humility.”

    And the fields we are in are a determinant, too. BTW, I can’t fold laundry either–especially fitted sheets . . . 

    • #20
  21. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    And the fields we are in are a determinant, too. BTW, I can’t fold laundry either–especially fitted sheets . . . 

    My wife won’t believe me. But folding laundry alongside her is like a five-to-one ratio and makes me feel like I should just leave it to her and contribute to the chores in some other way. But I meant it as something of a joke – a convenient  flaw to have.

    • #21
  22. Lawst N. Thawt Coolidge
    Lawst N. Thawt
    @LawstNThawt

    Thinking of humility and fighting things, I think perhaps the best human example of a warrior with a humble spirit might be King David.  He was fearless, but always fair and was always, if I remember correctly, giving credit to God for all he, David, was going to do or had done.   He did have a couple of hicups though, related to what might be considered selfish pride, which I take the recording of as encouragement for us.  Even the greatest of people don’t get it right every day.

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Lawst N. Thawt (View Comment):

    Thinking of humility and fighting things, I think perhaps the best human example of a warrior with a humble spirit might be King David. He was fearless, but always fair and was always, if I remember correctly, giving credit to God for all he, David, was going to do or had done. He did have a couple of hicups though, related to what might be considered selfish pride, which I take the recording of as encouragement for us. Even the greatest of people don’t get it right every day.

    Good choice. Yes, one of the things I appreciate about Torah is that there are many examples of flawed human beings we can identify with. At least I can! 

    • #23
  24. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    @susanquinn How dare you?!!  Don’t you know it’s Pride Month? 🏳️‍🌈 🏳️‍⚧️⚧🫃

    ******

    This post is part of the Quote of the Day group writing project at Ricochet. The QOTD Signup Sheet for June is here, and there’s still a few dates left for you to share a quote. Include your own commentary or simply invite a discussion. 

    • #24
  25. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Actually, I saw that humility was notably missing from the list of character traits promoted in my daughter’s middle school. The schools and the culture really emphasize confidence, although not the need to earn that confidence. You get taught about the need for humility at church, or at least at churches that understand the threat posed by identity politics. Undermining humility as a fundamental value is quite intentional, and very destructive of our country and its institutions.

    • #25
  26. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    Actually, I saw that humility was notably missing from the list of character traits promoted in my daughter’s middle school. The schools and the culture really emphasize confidence, although not the need to earn that confidence. You get taught about the need for humility at church, or at least at churches that understand the threat posed by identity politics. Undermining humility as a fundamental value is quite intentional, and very destructive of our country and its institutions.

    Church should be teaching humility of self and confidence in Christ. It’s a good lesson.

    • #26
  27. Derek Tyburczyk Lincoln
    Derek Tyburczyk
    @Derek Tyburczyk

    Humility, wouldn’t allow a yard sign, saying..

    ‘ In this house we believe’…………

    • #27
  28. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Susan Quinn: It seems that the radical Left has violated every premise of humility to attain their agenda

    Yes, violation seems to be their game plan.

    • #28
  29. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    Actually, I saw that humility was notably missing from the list of character traits promoted in my daughter’s middle school. The schools and the culture really emphasize confidence, although not the need to earn that confidence. You get taught about the need for humility at church, or at least at churches that understand the threat posed by identity politics. Undermining humility as a fundamental value is quite intentional, and very destructive of our country and its institutions.

    One other thing: people used to have to live within their means. Then credit cards became ubiquitous. And as that happened everyone in the work force was expected to wear clothes to work that were of the current fashion.

    The message was that all of us could aspire to be royalty – or at least to dress like it.

    Thrift and humility go hand in hand. But being thrifty was suddenly so quaint, and it seemed humility was something that would ensure you would not make it through the next round of promotions.

    • #29
  30. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    Actually, I saw that humility was notably missing from the list of character traits promoted in my daughter’s middle school. The schools and the culture really emphasize confidence, although not the need to earn that confidence. You get taught about the need for humility at church, or at least at churches that understand the threat posed by identity politics. Undermining humility as a fundamental value is quite intentional, and very destructive of our country and its institutions.

    One other thing: people used to have to live within their means. Then credit cards became ubiquitous. And as that happened everyone in the work force was expected to wear clothes to work that were of the current fashion.

    The message was that all of us could aspire to be royalty – or at least to dress like it.

    Thrift and humility go hand in hand. But being thrifty was suddenly so quaint, and it seemed humility was something that would ensure you would not make it through the next round of promotions.

    That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that connection. But I was raised by frugal parents, whose parents grew up in the Depression. They were also disposed to live quietly, maybe humbly. They were never the type to show off for friends, and certainly not for social media.

    • #30
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