So you’ve heard about the boy scout who received a merit badge for humility, and promptly had it taken away because he wore it? It’s like that old saying goes, you can be humble only as long as you believe that you aren’t, because as soon as you think you are, you aren’t. Sakes! That is SO confusing! True humility is a difficult virtue to understand and pull off. I want to study this topic a little deeper in our chat today.
C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. He said this about humility: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I love that. True humility involves a balance. Let’s start by looking at the first half of the quote first. Humility does not mean you have to exclusively believe yourself to be a bad person or debase yourself. That would be considered thinking less of yourself as Lewis said, and that is self shaming. If you can admit your shortcomings, there is abundant grace for them…because, guess what folks, we all are imperfect. Being realistic and truly sorry about the places where you and I can and have hurt others is necessary for true humility, but not believing that we are all bad. That is not true, you and I are not all bad. We have many good qualities too. Everyone does.
Let’s move on to the second half of that quote, where it says “thinking of yourself less.” I believe that true humility is about focus. Is my focus on myself, what I need, who hurt my feelings? Or is it on the other, their needs, their feelings? Here is the paradox that I have learned to be true: if I consistently focus on “what’s in it for me?” or “what have YOU done for ME lately?”, I will never be at peace, be happy, or be safe inside my heart. I will always be hungry, and lacking. Rather, the only way that peace comes is by focusing on what I can do FOR you, how I have taken care of you and your feelings, and how I’ve made sure I understand what it is like to be you. The repercussions of this are love, closeness, true admiration, safety, intimacy….the list goes on and on. Getting the love you want means giving the love they need, and then being able to receive all the love that will come back to you.
There is a caveat with that….in safe, close, loving, truly intimate relationships, both partners MUST do this. In relationship with others, one-sided on this subject will simply not work long-term. We all have short periods of time when we mess that up, but consistently, over time, both people in the relationship must find that humility of thinking of themselves less. The person who cannot find this humility and begin to care for the other person in this way will ultimately end up losing their partner to sheer exhaustion. Such is the nature of codependency. Having both a well-studied sense of self, and a strong, non-reactive voice is how we balance in interacting with this world full of sinner/saints. After all, when it comes down to it, having self-control does not necessarily mean keeping your mouth shut.
So, does true humility mean being realistic about my imperfections and shortcomings, admitting them freely and humbly apologizing for their detrimental effects on my loved ones…thinking of them more than myself? YES. Can I also simultaneously be realistic, and even confident about my skills and talents and what I have to offer, and still be humble? YES. It works best when you just do what you do, and leave the choice to praise you or thank you to others. When they feel these things genuinely, (which is the only REAL thanks and praise, not when they are asked), they will share them with you.
I’ll leave you today with a short story which is a perfect analogy for what I am talking about. There is a circular room surrounded by jail cells. The doors to the cells all face one another. In the middle of the room of cell doors is a huge table full of amazing foods. Each cell door has a window and each prisoner is given a long pole with a spoon on the end. No matter how each individual prisoner tries to move or twist or turn the pole, there just simply is no way to feed himself. The logistics make it impossible. It is torture. The prisoner starves, mere inches away from a feast. Then some of the prisoners begin to realize something. They can reach out and grab a spoonful of food, and reach it across the room to a prisoner on the other side, feeding them. The prisoners who are willing to serve others begin to have others serve them back. Mutuality emerges. Compassion is fostered. Those who are willing to only receive food eventually find that others don’t want to feed them anymore. Those who work to serve others have plenty to eat.
I hope this has given you food for thought. Enjoy your day!
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2014 Nancy Eisenman, MSW