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“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
- 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.
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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?Published in