“If you have to write about it, you don’t know what humility is.”—My dad
Let me start by saying that I don’t know what humility is. For more than a dozen years I’ve consciously struggled with the word and the concept of humility, and I’m still not sure. I do know this: If you want to change the world, humility is definitely a requirement.
The dictionary says humility is simply defined as the quality of being humble. It also says that to be humble is to lower something in importance.
This means developing and maintaining a modest view of our own importance in public and personal regards to who we are and what we do. Sometimes, we are given struggles that humiliate us, cause us to get humble and send us down the road with compromise in our hearts. That is the core of humility: Accepting that everyone, everywhere screws up and is screwed up.
That doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in the world, and that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to make a difference in the world. It does mean that while we’re working for social change, we shouldn’t be arrogant. Being proud and selfish can mean not seeing our faults and hoarding our accomplishments without sharing props with the people we worked with. That selfishness is typical in a lot of activist campaigns, where peoples’ egos and conceits become obvious. Its selfish to think the world owes you anything; to think the good guy always wins; to think the world works in a balance that will benefit you particularly.
Being right is the enemy of understanding. There’s a difference between knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know; one suffocates curiosity while the other leaves the door open to possibilities. In the same way that being perfect is the enemy of being good, so it holds true that being right is the enemy of being humble. Screwing up and being wrong, as well as tripping and falling, are all pathways to humility. They won’t automatically make you humble, but they can help you get there quickly.
“Humility is a sign of self-confidence; it means we’re secure enough to alter our views based on new information and new circumstances.”—Peter Wehner
Despite all the things we may have accomplished in the past, there will always be opportunities ahead. Our ideas, activities, outcomes and struggles do not make us better than anyone else, more correct than anyone else, or less faulty than anyone else. Being humble means acknowledging our mistakes, accepting responsibility for our inabilities, and working in earnest to make progress within ourselves as well as throughout the world around us.
Its a leap for some people to understand, but just to check whether you’re paying attention, I’ll say the reality for me: True humility means accepting our equality with everything else on Earth, including past and present, old and young, rich and poor, human and animal and insect and plant and dirt. All of it.
No matter what happens, in trying to change the world we should always really, really try to be respectful towards everyone, all the time. Humility is an absolute requirement for changing the world. Look at yourself honestly, strip yourself of your pride, puffed up chest and closed eyes. Look at yourself and what you’re trying to do and allow yourself to develop a humble attitude. Then, correct your defects, ask others for help and keep taking action to make the world a better place.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate our successes, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be arrogant or boastful. Don’t brag. Feel quiet confidence, because in the long run your character will speak for itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” Understanding that is a pathway towards being humble.
5 Ways to Be Humble
- Learn to be humble and always strive to become a better person.
- Give up individualism and accept interdependence.
- Be passionately curious, deliberately open-minded and consciously critical.
- Find your moral compass and strive for constant conscious contact with what matters most to you.
- Stay humble while you’re trying to change the world.
- Stop being selfish and start being selfless.
If you want to change the world, be humble.
Oh, and if you think you are humble, you’re not. If someone else tells you you’re humble, you lose it. If you are striving for humility everyday in every way in everything you’re doing, you cannot become humble.
- Addicted to Others
- Your Paper Lantern
- Change The World? Change Yourself!
- Personal Engagement Tip Sheets (PETS)
- “Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 1)” by Miki Kashtan for The Fearless Heart on August 7, 2010
- “6 Ways Humility Can Make You A Better Leader” by Gwen Moran for Fast Company on August 11, 2014
- “The Quiet Power of Humility” by Peter Wehner for The New York Times on April 15, 2017
- “Leaders are more powerful when they’re humble, new research shows,” by Ashley Merryman for the Washington Post on December 8, 2016.