Mind, Virtue

Reaching Humility

“A great man is always willing to be little.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841, Essays, Compensation

When we first start exploring who we are, we all find our champion virtue.

We choose one and we place it on top, whether it be compassion, honesty, loyalty etc. In this period there is very little room for nuance. We feel like we’ve found the answer and believe it to be explicitly true, leaving little room for interpretation. We need to create a hierarchy of values so this is a necessary step, but we also need to move on from this stage.

A lot of pride is present at this stage.

We take on the virtue we champion and it becomes part of who we believe we are. It shapes how we see the world, as well as how we think the world should be. When somebody denies, questions or somehow defiles what we place so much pride in-what we believe is the most integral part of who we are and in fact, the essence of life itself- we are likely to react in the extreme.

“A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

C.S. Lewis, 1952, Mere Christianity

Over time we may find that the rigid, one size fits all approach, doesn’t always work.

It is important to know what you value, but it is also important to know that there are going to be some grey areas in life and undoubtedly, some exceptions to what we thought were hard and fast rules. This fall, from thinking we have it all sussed out to realising we definitely don’t, can hurt. What can be found deep down in the bottom of the well however, is humility. We can take that humility in hand and begin to look up.

To be humble does not mean we fail to have any convictions.

What it does mean, is that we are aware of our own capacity to do wrong and to be wrong. It is appreciating that life is complex and multifaceted. It is seeing that although we humans are capable of being almost divine in our very existence, we are also capable of lowering ourselves to the grubs. To recognise the height and all the corners in life, makes us humble.

Humility is a gift given to those willing to keep their eyes open to the blinding light- and a gift it is.

In order to be humble, we must be truthful with both ourselves and others. Attempting to stay in line with the truth and not be taken in by our pride, allows us to act from a place of strength and sincerity. Humility refuses to live by falsehoods, even when it hurts.

To be humble does not mean believing ourselves to be, or placing ourselves below others. It is in fact aligning with something greater than ourselves, with a higher ideal. It allows us to see beyond pride and self-promotion. We can then recognise that there are greater things to gain and learn, if only we get out of our own way.

“The ground of humility is man’s estimation of himself according to truth. And that is almost all there is to it.”

Josef Pieper, 1965, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance
Ford Madox Brown, 1852-6, Jesus Washing Peter's Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1852-6, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet

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