When I think of humility, my mind immediately goes to figures like Mother Teresa, Ghandi or even Nelson Mandela. It has got to be one of those intangible traits I admire every time it’s exhibited by a leader.
But what is it really? And how do we get it?
I mean humility is a slippery sort of virtue, isn’t it. You try to achieve it and end up looking anything but humble. One can’t obtain humility as one does a new hairdo at the local barber shop. It can take time to recognize humility in someone, partly because a truly humble person isn’t looking for recognition.
Last week’s post on leadership and repentance reminded me of a book I just read on humility by John Dickson, Humilitas.
Dickson defines humility “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself” (24).
Why would we do that? He suggests a bunch of reasons, here are my five favourites:
1. Humility is common sense
- Expertise in one area counts for very little in another
- “True experts ought to be more conscious of their limitations than others” (53). And expert respects the fact those in other fields worked hard to know what they know
- “Thoughtful people recognize that what they don’t know and can’t do far exceeds what they do know and can do.” (66)
2. Humility promotes growth
- The humble place is the place of growth and thriving that the proud have no hope of ever discovering (116).
- Take for example, a proud person who will go away from a study conference with LESS than the humble person.
3. Humility is persuasive (133)
- I think about a highly skilled volley ball coach I idolized as a teenager, whose humility made us all want to listen when he spoke and emulate how he played all the more.
- That coach compared to the true story of a gifted pastor whose arrogant attitude caused him to announce one day that “he no longer needed to clean toilets,” for now he had staff to do that for him. Persuasive factor down a few points, no?
- “The most believable person in the world is the one who has my best interests in mind” Dickson, on the subject at Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2011.
4. Humility is inspiring
- “It is when our heroes are humble that they most inspire” (152)
- When leaders rise to the top and take all the credit, they cease to be inspirational
- If others stop receiving the credit, we have stopped inspiring them to greater heights (156)
- When leaders are aloof we admire them but we don’t aspire to be like them
5. Humility is beautiful
- Humility makes the great greater
- Check out Phil 2:3-8…Jesus humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross
- Our culture has been changed by the cross of Christ. It is this single event in history that changed a Greco-Roman society based on “honor and shame” into something different. Never before had a leader become weak, or humbled himself to a crazy shameful place like death on a cross in order to be great. It wasn’t so much his life, but the ‘way’ he died that made all the difference. Greatness and humility had never been attached together, EVER in history, before Jesus Christ. His death marks a shift where cultures began to see greatness and humility as one (105-107).
The book ends with a great quotation from C.S.Lewis.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you’re not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
Want humility? Forget about it. You will probably screw up all attempts to acquire it…just get low, real low and repent for the pride you were born with…daily.
What are your humble thoughts on the subject, I dare ya?