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On humility…

On humility.  Are we ever truly as humble as we portray ourselves to be?  Even when we say, “humbly speaking…” or “with the greatest of humility” or the more coarse, “I don’t mean to brag…,” can we ever be that which we say we are: humble?  I am really struck on this because I study those whom I believe to be successful, and some of them claim humility.  But I wonder, can one be successful and remain humble?

To be in the spotlight, to be under the scrutiny of many, to know that you have ‘arrived’ and have been found successful, it must be a dreadful hard place to be.  Because the temptation would be to give in to the pressure and believe that you are truly as wonderful as everyone else says you are. Or worse, as wonderful as you might also think yourself to be.  And thus, think that you have invented the wheel.  That your words are worth repeating.  That your very presence has honored the world.  That you are a wee bit better than the rest of us.

Is anyone ever that worthy?

I read blogs of writers far more eloquent than I.  One writer I read is tremendously gifted with poetic prose and descriptive voice.  It is a delight to read her essays.  But I am often put off when she makes reference, often, to how many weeks she has been on the bestseller list for the New York Times.  Is that really necessary? Particularly when it is all about, in her words, grace and humility and gratitude?

I think it should be very hard to be in her shoes.  And that is why I suppose, I cannot judge. For I have not walked a mile in her footsteps.

Humility is to me, the naivety of knowing how extraordinary you are and yet, believing it does not matter.  For, those who are truly humble see in others greatness.  And likewise, see in themselves, weakness.  Weakness not borne of inability, but of imperfection.  For, we know that we are strong when we are able to pull back the curtains and reveal our inadequacies.

And humility does not kiss and tell.

However, one does not need to be an overwhelming success story so as to be humble.  The best example of humility I have known was my that of my grandfather.  Grampie MacLean was neither successful by public standards or great according to his own measure of personal achievements.  He was average in many ways.  What stands out about my grandfather was his humility.  He was a great dad and grampie.  He was a wonderful carpenter and mechanic.  He was a great listener, a modest gardener and a patient friend.  He was calm and quiet, and he never once raised his voice.  Above all, he never gave himself any accolades.  And yet.  He was an expert at humility.  He might not have even known.

Those who are great by human standards could learn a thing or two from my grampie.  And they need to be careful that they do not call themselves a name that is not their own.  Humility is a label that must be earned through quiet perseverance.  And in general, if you tell people you are humble, nine times out of ten, you are probably not.  Humility is not modesty.  It is understatement and grace.

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