On the last episode of Recipe for Humility Pie…
Got all that?
Or you could just click this GLORIOUS LINK to the first part of of the discussion.
Now that you’ve thoroughly familiarized yourself with the last post, you’re ready for the test. Success will be met with cooing noises of approval. Failure will be met with a knock on the door and a long ride in a black van to an undisclosed location. But let’s not worry about that now.
Let’s talk about humility!
There are three points I’m going to cover in separate posts. The first part will be all about what humility is and what it is not. There are, especially in Western cultures, many misconceptions about what humility is, what it looks like, what kind of soap it uses to achieve that intoxicating, earthy scent. But I’m here to clear that up. Sort of. I’m no expert and there have been entire books dedicated to the subject. So I’m not really going to clear up anything so much as sift through the mucousy exudation of information and try to get to at least a slightly clearer appreciation for this forgotten, Jon Snow of a bastard of a virtue. Part two, covered in a separate post, of this odyssey will be about what science, and research, and smart people have found that having a nice slice of humility pie can do for you. Finally, the third thing I’m going to expound mightily upon is how we get out of our ruts of believing we’re the best thing since stellar nuclear fission created heavy elements that make up the building blocks of life and into a mindset of humility.
Now, put your pencils down and consider changing into some comfy clothes while you wait since some of you may be going for an unplanned vacation.
Who Are You? Who? Who?
I want to get this out in front because I am sure that some of you may be fostering two versions of humility in your head. Neither of them is right. The first is the saintly sage. (The next section is to be read in David Attenborough’s voice.)
Look how the saintly humble man scurries over the landscape. Look at his bowed head, his plain and rough clothing. Look there as he collects thistles for his simple, utterly humble meal that he will eat in his simple, completely non-ostentatious mud hovel.
Now for misconception number two which is that humility is just a fancy way of saying that someone is a weakling. (The next section can be read in the voice of a gossipy co-worker you hate or a douchey fraternity/sorority person.)
Did you see (We’ll call this person Bobbine)? S/he walks around all day, too afraid to say anything. At the last meeting/focus group/BDSM potluck s/he didn’t say a word. It’s like s/he isn’t even there. Bobbine can’t even look anyone in the eye. I swear I saw Bobbine wriggling on the ground in the break room like a worm. S/he even left a slime trail. It’s just so sad. By the way, has anyone seen my ball gag?
Okay, let’s pop these misconception bubbles so we can dig into the earthy, fragrant goodness of what humility actually is. Being humble does not mean being a saint. Fuck that. You don’t need to move to a mountain and meditate while kneeling on hot coals to pump up your astral energy all the while flagellating yourself with a flail made from the pages of Deepak Chopra books. Being humble doesn’t mean you transcend the earthly plane or stop feeling negative or even destructive emotions. People who practice humility feel all the same emotions and experience all the same ups and downs that anyone else feels. There is no secret, no mantra, no totally groovy one-ness with everything. It’s more of the same and nothing besides. And it certainly isn’t anything less which brings me to this little revelation.
Being humble does not mean you are a spineless pushover. People can’t just go up to you and say, “You look like a humble dude/dudine, give me your wallet,” or, “You look mighty humble, I think you should believe global warming is a conspiracy designed by disgruntled polar bears to plunge the earth into another ice age so that a new Polar Bear Empire can rise from the frozen tundra.” Push a person with humility and s/he will still tell you to fuck off and they might not even be that nice about it. Being led around by the nose, not standing up for yourself, always being in the background are not acts of humility. Those are acts of fear, of anxiety. As I said in the previous post, some amount of confidence is necessary, not hating yourself is good, and not letting yourself be made into mincemeat by the machinations of others are all positive things. But confidence and self-esteem need to be tempered with humility and humility does not equate to being a wimp. Allow me to tell you a bit about what humility is then.
Humility is a somewhat nebulous concept in large part to its being a trait or virtue that is so tightly tied to sense of self. And the concept of self is still something that is being debated and examined to this day.
However, Albrecht (2015) characterizes humility as, “emotional neutrality. It involves an experience of growth in which you no longer need to put yourself above others, but you don’t put yourself below them, either.” So humility is fairness! Everyone should be equal. Thank God that’s over. Time to go back to practicing my Force Choke.
Actually humility, though it does have some points of contact with fairness, is not about fairness as an experiment conducted by Hilbig, Thielman, Wührl, and Zettler (2015) demonstrated. In the experiment, an unfair distribution of resources was allocated between a participant and an opponent. The participant was assigned to the conditions of having more resource or less. The participant then had the option to reassign the distribution of the resources. Those who tested high in a humility screening were more likely to reassign excess resource if they had been placed in the advantaged condition but often refrained from reassigning resources if they were put in a disadvantaged condition. In other words, this was not about everything being blindly fair and equal. The participants who tested high for humility allowed the other participant to walk away with more when they could have done something to stop it. Simply put, those high in humility were more likely to act benevolently, even when they themselves were going to end up disadvantaged. And this goes to the heart of humility, in my opinion. At the heart of humility is the recognition that we are not the center of the universe, that there are other people and forces out in the world besides ourselves and that our existence constitutes a minute portion of the totality of existence. Humility is the recognition of our smallness, our incompleteness. In consideration of this, those who practice humility do not work so hard to maintain or grow their ego or sense of self-importance. There is no reason to compete with others as a means of asserting one’s superiority (except when it comes to Mario Kart 64. I’ll see you on the Rainbow Road, bitches!) since, in reality, no human being is greater or lesser than any other. We’re all just here for the ride, blood and bone machines in a vast, incomprehensible universe. In that context, all the achievements we lord over others don’t mean bugger all. With humility, one does not seek to dominate others or bend others to your will (except in Mario Kart 64). By the same token, you also don’t respond to being bent either since, all humans being on the same footing, other people’s ideas are more often than not just as incorrect as yours. This frees you to consider ideas, not based on how much authority or fervor the source of the information has, but how well the ideas mesh with reality.
Now that we’ve mashed our faces into humility’s luxurious mane and gotten a lungful of its liberating aroma (I’m not sure if we should be turned on or worried about this), it’s time to see what humility can do in a practical sense. So make sure to tap into your inner homing pigeon and return here for the next post where I’ll show you just how much you can accomplish when you practice humility.
Hilbig, B.E., Thielmann I., Wührl, J., Zettler, I. (2015). From honesty-humility to fair behavior-Benevolence or a (blind) fairness norm? Personality and Individual Differences, (80), 91-95. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com