There is something of the controversial and confrontational in the understanding of humility in our society today. I say this, with an honest hand on heart, that I even find, within myself, a certain struggle in understanding humility and applying it to my own life and sense of self. Growing up, especially in the eighties and nineties, to be humble was not “cool” - in fact we were actively encouraged to be as big, loud, and out there as possible. Think big shoulder pads, big hair, and even bigger egos. Our role models were people who made big bucks in banking and investments, celebrities who were extravagant and unapologetic for their “live big” lifestyles, and sports stars who were focused primarily on winning, winning, winning and who would chuck massive tantrums if they lost. Success was defined by being the best and having the most material things - money, property, objects. Life was aspirational in a capitalist way, material objects revealed status, if you weren’t aiming for the large house with large furniture and a fancy car in the garage there was something wrong with you. In the eighties and nineties humility was seen as a weakness and a character trait that would not help you achieve individual success in life; achieving the socially accepted BIG life meant there was no space, no place, for humility.
Humility comes from the root words of humilitas and humus, meaning “the earth beneath us.” What this says to me is that humility is about being grounded, grounded in ourselves and in the world around us, in being grounded in the truth of our lives, our successes and our failures. Humility is not a weakness, but like the earth that stands so solidly beneath our feet, humility is strength in knowing our true selves; it takes strength in the feedback and comments of others; it takes strength in the knowledge of doing what it takes to be the best moral and ethical person that we can be. Humility is finding strength is your abilities, your knowledge, your character, and using these strengths to help others grow, learn, and succeed. There is power in humility, there is power in the deep, pro-social connections humility assists you in making. Humility is that beautiful middle ground between vanity/pride and self deprecation. In Don Quixote humility is said to be the base and foundational virtue of all the virtues and without humility no other virtue would exist. So I ask you, do you cultivate humility in your own life? Or in the lives of the kids you work with or parent?
How can we cultivate our humility? And what impact will cultivating humility have on our lives and the lives of others?