Growing up, humility came in many shapes and forms but I somehow always felt that it was my duty to be humble. “Women are to be seen, and not heard.” A humble beauty as my matriarchs would call it. Young women were expected to be responsible, do as they were told, and not question the authorities of others. To me, this did not seem to be humility but fear, yet it was impolite to be any other way.
“Humility is the fear of the Lord; it’s wages are riches and honor and life,” Proverbs 22:4. This verse in the Bible, long ingrained in my brain since a youth, never quite appealed to me because I never understood how being humble and fearful could be the same. This would be one of my many qualms with Christianity as I aged. This constant theme of fear and humility never quite fit for me. It never suggested that I had a responsibility to myself, only to others. It didn’t enable me to take ownership of my intentions, actions, and impact.
As some themes in literature or movies suggest, I do not believe humility should make you demean or degrade yourself or others but should help you to recognize who you are, what you will accept, and what you can work on. For example, when humility is represented in many of the Bible stories I knew, it was always the lowly servant or poor farmer tropes. To me that represented fear and desperation. If you are fearful, does that truly make you humble?
Humility is a decision. I found it quite easy in my youth to be arrogant, prideful, boastful even. It has been a journey to take responsibility for myself and the choices I make as an adult. Most of which has led me one way or another to being humble. The more I am able to seek myself, the more aware I am of my own strengths and limitations, the better I can accept them in others. When I use humility as a personal principle in my life, I am so confident in my own abilities, my own strengths and limitations that I can better recognize, acknowledge, and complement advantages and weaknesses in those around me. Along with empathy, humility offers me a chance to release judgement and empowers the absolute fact that we are all indeed human in any relationship or situation. I also find that practicing humility allows me to be grateful for all that I have and come in contact with. It allows me to focus on the experience, being present, and taking on a perspective that is free of pride and arrogance.
C.S. Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” More clearly, humility is thinking of yourself in context to the larger picture. If you do not honor yourself, you will not be able to respond to the role you play in your communities, workplaces, or the world. Humility is not only our duty to the world but our duty to ourselves. It helps us to build relationships, create opportunities for others to feel safe and accepted, and to see ourselves in all whom we meet.
Being humble for me has not been to please others or to give reverence to outside sources but to show up as my best, non-judgmental self so that I may serve others in a way that allows me to do my best good for anyone I meet. As an adult, I do not exercise humility because of fear or out of a need for other people’s approval of my actions, but because it is my responsibility to create space for others to see, accept, and share their own talents with the world.