The Virtue of Humility often gets a bad “rap.” If you associate it with being a pushover, a patsy, weak, and to be avoided at all costs, you don’t understand this important virtue. Humility is about truth, the fundamental truth of who we are as human beings in relation to the One Who created us: precious though imperfect.
The late reporter and author, Edwin Dobb, expressed his feelings about this virtue in this way: “Gazing at the night sky, at the stars, and the planets invariably speaks to me of the profound humility I feel before the enormity of the universe.”
We each have strengths and weaknesses; to deny either is to fall into false humility. Humility is not about putting ourselves down, not about doubting our competence, and certainly not engaging in what writer David Tristan shared in the October issue of the magazine, Res Gestae: “negative self-talk.” King David got it right when he wrote these words in Psalm 139: “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made”(verses 13-14).
The great Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: “Humility is truth. It is becoming aware of and accepting the truth of who we are.” She was, no doubt, positively influenced by the following passage from the prophet, Isaiah: “But now, thus says the Lord who created you (me) and formed you (me): fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine”…..”you are precious in my eyes and glorious and I love you” (43:1 and 4).
The theme of humility in Jesus’ life is captured beautifully by St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of (people). He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself” (2:6-8a).
The passage from Isaiah above had a profound impact on me when, in my mid-twenties, I found myself struggling with a poor self-image. I brought my concern to a wise Jesuit priest friend of mine who listened caringly to my problem and gave me two wonderful helps: a phrase, or mantra, to say whenever I found myself caught in this negative thinking – “God loves me and that is what ultimately matters” – and the words from Isaiah 43.
Marilyn Gist, professor emerita at Seattle University, in her recently published book,
“The Extraordinary Power of Leader Humility,”* gives us another perspective on this virtue. She defines humility in leadership as “a tendency to feel and display a deep regard for others’ dignity.” Like I mentioned above, she does not see humility as a sign of weakness; but rather as a necessary disposition for working with others. She writes: “We can still be strong and have high standards. And we can demonstrate
respect for others’ sense of self-worth.” When we respect the dignity of others, we empower them. This kind of leader knows what she knows and what she doesn’t. This, too, is true humility.
* Published by Berrett-Koehler, Inc., 2020; (800) 929-2929; www.bkconnection.com