We live in a culture that favors the strong. In that context “meekness” is often confused with “weakness.” Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Meekness is a power word. In the ancient world it was often used to describe the winning horse in a race. They were called “meek”, which meant “strength under control.” The horse was tamed, but not timid.
This is also true for our perception of humility. To make the distinction let’s call it healthy humility. Contrary to popular belief, humility is not “thinking less of yourself.” It’s “thinking of yourself less.”
Humility — when healthy — makes you a more powerful person. So what does that look like?
Here are 6 attributes of an individual with a healthy humility.
1. They acknowledge they don’t have it altogether. An accurate self-assessment makes this obvious. But here’s the challenge. Most people value honest humility. Yet the challenge is accepting the events that contribute to personal humility. It often includes some bumps and bruises — or perhaps a near fatal wreck — to come to a place of humility.
A humble person sees the power in not faking it. And people are drawn to your vulnerability. It includes embracing our successes and failures.
2. They know the difference between self-confidence and pride. Humility and confidence are meant to be in a beautiful relationship. Confidence and self-esteem do not shrink as humility grows. Both Martin Luther King and Gandhi credited their model of humility (passive resistance), to the teachings of Jesus. That definitely did not include weakness, poor self-esteem, or a lack of fortified commitment. Confidence and humility are a great pairing.
Pride is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. And it is typically accompanied by placing ourselves above others.
“Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. They seek to add value to others. Inward reflection is healthy. Inward focus can be debilitating. It’s important to care for yourself. This should be balanced with an outward focus on others and their contribution to the world. Self-awareness is not self-absorption.
Humility creates a sense of “we-ness” in relationships. Who wants a narcissist as a friend or partner? Humility becomes the social oil that prevents the wear-and-tear in the engine of our relationships. The closer the relationship, the greater the potential for over-heating and abrasion.
4. They take responsibility for their actions. They don’t blame others, or circumstances, or genes for their actions.
Humility is slow to judge others, but quick to correct itself.
There might be a place for explaining actions, but not in excusing them. Excuses are usually the result of pride and fear. Humility apologizes when wrong without allowing others to mistreat it. Self-flagellation is the shadow side of taking personal responsibility. Acknowledgment leads to remorse and a change in direction — not self-pity or self-loathing.
Sometimes you don’t see the best path until you’ve strayed from it.
Acknowledge your error and use it to become better — stronger.
5. They understand the shadow side of success. Advancements and promotions are good. But the further we get from others, the more potential we have for arrogance. As a humble person moves up the chain of command, they remind themselves of the danger of power. It makes us feel self-important. This leads to arrogance, and arrogance stops listening to others. Refusal to listen creates distance. And this distance blinds us to the ugliness of arrogance. Like a mental illness, it’s delusional.
Strong leaders have Egoless Clarity. They are deliberate, but not self-serving. They understand that it takes a leader to accomplish a little, and an army to accomplish a lot
6. They are filled with gratitude for what they have. We live in a “scarcity” society. When we take on that perspective we miss those moments to be truly thankful. The I-want-it-now mindset never stops to realize that “I’ve-got-it-already.” It’s never enough! The opposite of scarcity is not abundance. The opposite of scarcity is “enough.” I am grateful I have enough. The opposite of gratitude is living in a false world created by our ego. Humility recognizes that we own nothing. All is a gift. And we are profoundly grateful.
Humility is like a muscle. It can be weakened or strengthened. It depends on the routine and regularity of exercise. Getting in touch with our modest side sets us up for success. Perhaps that’s why, throughout history, it’s been the foundation for all other virtues.
What comes to your mind when you think of a humble person?