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Humility:

Lifting Nearly Every Other Important Virtue to Greater Heights

Brodie Vissers/Creative Commons

Has your lack of humility ever held you back from getting better—would you even know if it had?

Join me for a moment and consider the most humble person you know. Maybe it’s a family member, a neighbor, a colleague, or someone you admire from afar. Now think about the positive effect and influence that person has on others. I suspect it is quite high.

Above all other character qualities, humility is foundational. It’s like salt—it brings out the best flavor of each character quality required for effective relationships. The word comes from the Latin humilis,which literally means “low.” But it doesn’t express itself as weakness, fear, or timidity. In his bookHumility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue, Dr. David Bobb writes that“In reality, humility is strength, not weakness. Humility enables courage and points wisdom in the right direction. It is the backbone of temperance, and it makes love possible.”

Those who are humble have a secure sense of self—their validation doesn’t come from something external, but is based on their true nature. To be humble means to shed one’s ego, because the authentic self is much greater than looking good, needing to have all the answers, or being recognized by one’s peers. As a result, those who have cultivated humility have far greater energy to devote to others. They go from being consumed with themselves (an inner focus) to looking for ways to contribute and help others (an outer focus). Humility has the power to influence nearly every aspect of your personality. It is the key to building solid character and strong, meaningful connections.

So, humility isn’t . . .

· Low self-esteem (thinking you’re less than others).

· Low courage (not speaking your mind).

· Ongoing self-deprecation.

Humility is what allows me to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake.” Humility is what prompts me to think, “What’s going on with my co-worker today? Do they need my help?”

Humility invites me to step back and make sure everyone in the room receives credit, not just me. Humility inspires me to donate my time and resources to a good cause. Humility tells me that no matter how successful I am, I didn’t do it on my own. Humility allows me to give my full attention to people when they’re talking. It reminds me that I’ve been talking for the last thirty minutes and need to give others air time. Humility helps me feel happy about someone else’s success. Humility keeps me curious—in a state of continuous learning. Humility is why I treat the front receptionist with the same respect as I treat the CEO. Humility helps me forget grievances, even when the person who wronged me hasn’t apologized. Humility invites me to pay it forward. Humility makes me feel grateful for who I am and what I have. Humility prompts me to ask for help when I need it. Humility helps me stop worrying about myself and start thinking about others. Humility gives me courage to be honest with a co-worker in a respectful way. Humility is the wisdom to accurately assess my strengths and weaknesses. Humility reminds me to be patient with myself and others, and to know that we are all in the process of getting better. Humility tells me that while I’m important, I’m only one part of a much bigger picture.

St. Augustine said, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

Humility has the power to influence nearly every aspect of your personality. Does that sound like a stretch? Consider self-control, a trait that is seemingly unrelated to humility. Can humility serve to increase willpower? Researchers conducted a study to answer that very question. They asked a group of volunteers to talk about a time when they felt humble. The researchers listened to their stories, then invited the participants to wait in the adjoining room. It was an ordinary waiting room with couches, chairs, and coffee tables. On each table was a big bowl of candy. By this time, the participants thought they were just waiting for the next part of the study; but the waiting room was the next part of the study. The researchers took note of the group’s behavior for a time and then dismissed them.

Then, they took a second group of participants and asked them to describe a normal day in their lives. When the session ended, the second group was asked to wait in the next room, also supplied with candy. The result: the people who had been asked to describe a time when they were humble ate far fewer pieces of candy! While only 12 percent of the control group abstained from eating candy, 40 percent of the humble group ate no candy at all.

After repeating the experiment many times, the researchers came to a remarkable conclusion: People in a humble state of mind are better at self-control. The same set of researchers found that humility can also lead to greater physical stamina and an increased ability to persevere when the going gets tough. And if that’s not enough, other researchers went on to find a link between humility and being able to hang on to self-esteem in times to failure, as well as an increased ability to develop stronger social bonds.

As you can see, humility is far from weakness. It allows us to push aside pride, ego, and selfishness, while lifting nearly every other important virtue to greater heights.

Revisiting and recalibrating your humility on a regular basisis so important. It’s the way we begin to get better and strengthen each and every relationship we have.

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