As would be appropriate for this post I will leave the espousing of this first and greatest virtue to the men below:
“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” – Saint Augustine
“Humility makes great men twice honorable.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.” – Henry Ward Beecher
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” – Confucius
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2
Step 3 – Be Humble
Humility rightly understood
There seem to be two extremes in modern times regarding what it means to be humble and the value that it serves. On one end of the spectrum (I generally find this in Christian circles) is a severe undeservedness and lowliness. These are sometimes marked by phrases such as, “I’m doing better than I deserve.” and “But for the grace of God…” Please understand there is nothing wrong when these are sincere but often times they are worn on the sleeve to serve the purpose of trying to remain in a state of lowly humility. In one sense they are taking on the aspects of shamefulness rather than humility (which I will elaborate on below). On the other end is a disregard for humility as a virtue at all. In fact it would be viewed as a direct result of insecurity and doubt by most and not something that should be first and foremost sought after. Likely this is due to how humility has been presented and stands in direct contrast to the highly marketed “Me” culture of our day. We all have an image of the self-made man, who takes life by the horns, gets the things the life that are rightfully his, and does it all with only a Type A personality and a strong chin. He has no need to thank anyone nor is he reliant upon anyone for his success. That guy might be good in a suit commercial, but in reality we would refer to him as a narcissist!
Humility, rightly understood, is an act of truth and courage. Truth in having a right assessment of yourself; the qualities you possess, your weaknesses and giftings, as well as gratefulness to the one(s) who helped you along the way. And courage in the face of judgment from others when weaknesses are revealed. Particularly courage not to boast or defend yourself for the sake of your image. It is no accident that those who are humble are also those that come across as the most confident. They have shifted their value (or self-worth) from the opinions of others and have placed it in solid principles that do not change based solely on their performance. There is a freedom there which gives way to graciousness towards others and a spirit of teachability.
Paul, the author of the book of Romans, speaks of thinking rightly of ourselves:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” – Romans 12:3
C.S Lewis cleverly states:
Along with the misunderstanding of true humility, there is the misunderstanding of pride. It’s important to recognize the difference in feeling “proud” versus arrogant, self-serving pride.
Is it OK to be proud?
There are two types of pride we generally refer to. The kind that you have when you accomplish a challenge, when your kids get good grades, etc. we generally refer to as being proud. This is good. The other pride, which is closely linked, is a sense of worth that comes from judgment, not only of ourselves but others as well, and results in a sense of superiority. This is bad.
Although the Bible speaks mostly on the bad pride, as mentioned by the Avett Brothers, it also speaks of the good pride. See Paul’s comments here and here. The good pride can become bad pride if we are not careful. It shifts when we begin to replace thankfulness and gratefulness with the self-awarded trophies of achievement. This leads some to avoid any sense of worth (think the monks who flogged themselves) in fear that it may evolve into something bad. In other words, if pride is the root of so many evils, and being proud is a potential root of pride, then being proud ought to be avoided. However, that approach is actually a form of self-serving pride. I won’t get into the particulars because it goes pretty deep, but you can probably see how that loops back around to serve one’s self.
I am also aware that while pride is typically something that needs to be doused and controlled, in many cases today men do not have a sense of pride in much of anything. Perhaps it is a result of how you were raised. If you get told you can’t do anything right enough times you will start to believe it. Maybe it is an offspring of an increasingly disposable and fast paced world in which we live. In general though, I believe it is a result of the watering down of every good thing in the last few generations upon the order of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’. To boast outwardly of yourself and others in something that is truly worthwhile and good, or in anyway escalating someone’s achievements above another’s, may lead to attacks upon your own character. This is why a principled stance is so key. Principles do not change. Learn to take pride in achievements and displays of character that demonstrate timeless principles. Doing so will give you a sure footing in case of a challenge and will keep you far from prides slippery slope.
Humility requires a constant correction of our values
As you grow as a man you will no doubt find yourself being called to higher positions and doing well in them. The number of things for which you can be proud will increase, but with each success also comes an opportunity to practice humility. Here are some practical guidelines to help ensure your ego stays in check.
We can learn from anyone. I still get a little sting when a junior at work shows me a trick or two that I didn’t know before. It takes practice to catch yourself in those moments and accept the fact that you don’t know everything. Be grateful for any opportunity to grow.
This is a great way to put others first and keep the conversation off of yourself. Do your best to commit the conversational details to memory and bring them up the next time you meet.
If you want to catch someone off guard and really bless them, tell them you appreciate them. Or even better, do it in front of others. I love to talk about my boy’s achievements in front of other people. They need to know their father is proud and values their accomplishments enough that he considers it worthy news just as much as politics, movies, and manly things.
Admit to being wrong
Pray for others
Contrary to the images that may come to mind, praying for someone is a great way to come along side them and participate in their cares. Being mindful of other peoples trials and concerns can also make you count your blessings and realize that you could just as easily be in their situation.
Every successful man will have challenges in this area. You will have good days and bad days. You will uncover bits of ego and hulking slabs of arrogance. When we do, take a deep breath, admit our faults, shake them off, and be thankful that we didn’t spend the rest of our lives carrying it around. Pride is a debilitating weight on a good man’s soul. We have to continually drag it with us wherever we go.