Today, I discuss the false virtue of humility: what it is, why it isn’t a virtue, and what virtues you should pursue instead.
Table of Contents
- What Is Virtue?
- What Is Humility?
- What Makes Humility A Virtue False?
- Why Is It Bad To Make Humility A Virtue?
- How Do You Cultivate Humility Without Arrogance or Self-Pity?
- Humility Is Crucial For Individual Growth
What Is Virtue?
“All that a man loses in the pursuit of virtue is his comfort.”
Virtue is behavior that shows high moral standards – for example, being generous to those in need or being patient during a challenging time. Although difficult to perform, virtuous actions build stable lives and accomplish meaningful goals.
What Is Humility?
As C.S. Lewis wisely said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility is self-forgetfulness that removes the excesses of ego without losing one’s dignity.
For example, being a parent involves wiping noses, changing diapers, playing silly games, and cleaning the home. No matter how large and in charge one may be, you are responsible to and for someone a quarter of your size. This is humbling.
Thus, unlike other false virtues, humility serves a purpose and is, overall, a net good. The danger of humility is when one forgets it is a by-product of moral integrity.
What Makes Humility A Virtue False?
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” – Mahatma Gandhi
A false virtue is passive. Courage, Generosity, Industriousness, Discipline, Persistence, Patience, Gratitude, Zeal, Magniminity, Loyalty, Fortitude, Authenticity, and Frugality all require active participation. You cannot be passively patient. You have to actively cultivate the thought patterns needed to be calm during difficult times.
Unfortunately, everyone forgets that humility is a by-product of a virtuous life. It is not a virtue. If you are a parent taking care of your child, you are practicing the virtue of loyalty. Such responsibility is challenging, demanding, and frustrating, but you remain committed. This commitment is humbling because you are overcoming your emotions and comforts to serve the needs of your offspring.
Why Is It Bad To Make Humility A Virtue?
Humility does not reduce the ego. Individuals can easily become arrogant because they believe constant self-deprecation is good enough. You can say, “I’m not as great as X.” This statement shows humility, but the sentiment is hollow. On the other hand, if you pursue virtue, you will become stronger. This strengthening process humbles you because you will meet constant failures and upsets. When encountering such losses, you realize you are not flawless, perfect, or “the best.” Furthermore, you realize how much you need to rely on others. These realities are antidotes to arrogance and can only be achieved through the active pursuit of virtue.
Therefore, you cultivate humility with three virtues: gratitude, zeal, and magnanimity. To be grateful is to consider and reflect on the great things you have and live up to the gifts you have been given. Gratitude requires you to take what you have and make the most of it. Such a practice of gratitude will humble you.
Additionally, humility steals from magnanimity and zeal. Many “humble” people view any push towards greatness as arrogance. However, zeal requires a burning fire for life and the desire to accomplish great goals. Pursuing great goals with zeal humbles us, as the greater our purposes, the more likely we are to fail. Thus, the more likely we are to be humbled.
Lastly, many “humbled” individuals downplay their successes. When we excuse what we have achieved, we betray magnanimity. If we have achieved greatness, we must embrace the pride that comes with this. If greatness is hard, then admit this reality and be humbled by how much you have accomplished. Denying excellence to appear humble only sews bitterness and creates unrealistic expectations for others.
How Do You Cultivate Humility Without Arrogance or Self-Pity?
Firstly, have rational pride. Have pride in accomplishments you have earned and never shy away from the good you do. The man who recognizes his greatness is better positioned to continue that excellence than one who deceives himself.
Secondly, stop pursuing comforts. The more niceties you pursue, the more delusional you become about yourself and your purpose. However, if you are constantly shocking your mind awake with discomforts, you are less likely to lie to yourself and develop false humility.
Lastly, pursue the wisdom of honest people. You are not arrogant for disregarding the opinion of dishonest people. Conversely, if a virtuous man offers advice, heed it to develop your character better.
Humility Is Crucial For Individual Growth
Humility is crucial for an individual to avoid arrogance which distracts you from your flaws and the goals you may set for yourself.
But you learn humility by failing. You learn humility by overcoming the pain required to become your best self. You cannot simply practice humility. It is a state of mind gifted to you through the greatness you seek to cultivate.
In conclusion, humility comes from being beaten down in the pursuit of virtue. This pursuit shows you are not invincible, all-knowing, flawless, and a God amongst men. Virtue shows you that you are mortal and flawed yet capable. And that to be capable, you must pursue something of value that destroys your comforts. Therefore, one does not become humble to endure trials – one is humbled through trials.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
- What has humbled you? How did you feel after being humbled?
- What is a goal you wish you could achieve? What is preventing you from achieving it?
- Do you ever pity yourself? What causes you to be down on yourself? Can you do anything to change this low opinion of yourself?
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.