Today, I want to go over the three versions of false humility and why they aren’t suitable for the individual.
What is Humility?
Humility is a view of oneself that is akin to self-forgetfulness. Humility is not the absence of understanding one’s value or self-esteem. For example, you’re not humble if you think your life has no value when compared to another’s – this is low self-esteem, not humility.
Humility is a mindset that is grateful and aware while not being self-centered.
For example, people may comment on John Doe’s accomplishments, and he should acknowledge his actions. However, he may make a note of the people who supported him, such as his family or his wife, and how their assistance was invaluable in helping him achieve personal greatness. In this example, John doesn’t deny what he’s accomplished, but he takes the time to acknowledge that he did not reach his goals alone. This is humility.
What Are The Three Types of False Humility?
- The first is building yourself up while pretending to tear yourself down, i.e., the humblebrag.
- The second is belittling yourself to gain sympathy or support, i.e., self-deprecation.
- The last is being untruthful about your skills and accomplishments to garner more support from lazy, weak people, i.e., the artist’s lie.
1. The Humble Brag
An excellent example of the humblebrag is, “My wife is always disappointed by my looks. I guess she just has to settle for my six-figure job.” The speaker, Jack, attempts to take a dig at his looks to show how humble and self-critical he is.
However, there are two problems here. Firstly, Jack criticizes his looks, an immutable aspect of his being that is outside of his direct control. No amount of positive thinking, virtuous actions, or sincerity will improve Jack’s looks, and he knows it. Jack doesn’t criticize his greed, lewd behavior, or vapid admiration of his wife (character flaws readily determined from his statement).
Furthermore, Jack doesn’t focus on character flaws, which he can change through personal effort. He focused on his looks, which he cannot improve. The goal is to gain admiration for a flaw he doesn’t have to change (his looks) instead of garnering condemnation for the character traits he should change (his character flaws).
The second problem is Jack wants his listener to see him as humble and rich. He starts by being falsely modest (look at how unattractive I am) then follows up with a brag about his wealth (but boy do I make a lot of money). The goal is to gain admiration for his false humility (which doesn’t force any meaningful character improvements) while increasing respect for his wealth.
If Jack were truly humble, he would talk about his admiration for his wife, the joys of his job, or crack a joke or two about his looks. He would make the conversation about things other than his accomplishments. Not because he’s ashamed of them (no one should ever be ashamed of their abilities or achievements), but to avoid becoming self-centered, ungrateful, and overbearing.
The second form of false humility is self-deprecation. The primary point of self-deprecation is tearing oneself down to gain sympathy or support. For example, Bob’s friends are teasing him about his weight. Bob can laugh along with his friends, set boundaries (if he wishes to), or sharpen his wit. However, Bob may choose to agree with the insults and contribute by belittling himself further.
Bob might mention his lack of a love life or how painful it is to exercise. His friends may respond with sympathy, or, if they are genuinely sadistic, continuing to insult Bob even further.
If Bob struggles with his weight, then he should tell his friends and ask for support. They may not know about Bob’s struggles and can provide the tools Bob needs to improve himself and lose the weight.
People like Bob utilize self-deprecation as a means of digging a hole and avoiding the reality of self-improvement. It’s not evil – but it’s harmful. The solution to personal struggles is to isolate the problem, then resolve the issue.
3. The Artist’s Lie
The “artist’s lie” is when an artist lies about the time, energy, and effort that goes into creating art. On the one hand, they will declare that creating art is easy and “no big deal.” On the other hand, they will state that a beautiful art piece they spent time, energy, and effort creating is something they “simply threw together” or that “anyone can create this.”
Artists lie for three main reasons. The first is to avoid critics. If you can shrug your shoulders and say anything, from a crayon drawing to Mona Lisa, is something you “threw together” than the critics are less likely to take you seriously. Furthermore, they will see you as humble and focus on how modest you are instead of critiquing your work and providing you with the tools to improve.
Secondly, artists want to be seen as humble so that they can obtain approval from admirers. Let’s say we have an artist named Jane, who spends five hours a day drawing and improving her skill. This investment enhances her abilities, and she quickly develops into an impressive artist. She is not ashamed of her talent, and many people despise her for her skills. They dislike Jane not because she brags about her accomplishments, but because she refuses to denounce her abilities.
However, a rival artist, Micheal, has developed abilities close to Jane’s. Instead of being proud of what he has done, he continually shrugs his shoulders and says, “Hey, anyone can do what I do. I mean, I’m not that impressive.” His display of false humility garners supporters because he makes them feel better about their inactions and lack of discernable abilities.
Lastly, many artists are insecure. They don’t believe in their art nor appreciate the efforts they’ve invested. They worry about popularity, fame, and money instead of focusing on mastery of skill and enjoyment of the craft. In this last example, the artist lies to themselves to calm their fears about not reaching fame or wealth. Only by severing ties to the desire to be seen as “popular” can an individual honestly come to peace with their art.
Why Is False Humility Annoying?
Humble people are always a joy to be around because they do not need to prove themselves. They listen to and communicate value without the distractions of their insecurities.
It’s nice to be around someone who asks questions about your work instead of bragging aimlessly about their accomplishments. I like talking to other artists who, when I compliment their work, accept the compliment but admit their dissatisfaction, then proceed to walk me through what they want to improve. These artists are mentally engaging and wish to enhance the quality of their artwork.
False humility is manipulative. Humility is hard to come by because we are self-centered creatures. When a person does achieve humility, we should admire them. However, false humility, through the humblebrag, self-deprecation, or artist’s lie, seeks to earn the praises of the genuinely humble without working towards self-improvement.
Next Week – How To Overcome False Humility
When I originally wrote this post, it was substantially smaller. However, I realized I needed to expand on various versions of false humility. Because of this expansion, the blog grew more extensive than I’d like. I’m writing a follow-up post detailing how to overcome false modesty as well as how to deal with others engaged in false humility.
Stay tuned for next week’s post.
- Which of these versions of false humility do you practice most often? Why?
- Which of these versions of false humility do people around you practice the most? Why?
- Do you know of any other versions of false humility?
- What bothers you most about people who practice false humility?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.