Notes on Humility

Humility is one of the many mysteries of Humanity. It is one of those elusive ideas that are difficult to describe yet almost intuitive to understand. Everyone has a basic understanding of it, But when asked what it is, few are able to answer. Recently, I was in that difficult position. I was searching for words, a means to communicate, what exactly it means to be humble. And to tell the truth, I probably wouldn’t understand my own answer if I was the questioner… So, here I try to rectify the issue. This is by no means a definitive guide, just some thoughts gathered from here and there… Some, my own.

The general idea of Humility

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – C. S. Lewis

As usual, Lewis right on the mark! People have a general misconception that humility is about thinking of yourself as inferior. Maybe inferior to your own self. How can a person be inferior or less that who he actually is? Less than what God made him? Believing such a thing would be not be humility but believing a lie.

The secret of humility is in forgetting the self. It is when you begin to forget yourself you become humble. It is because pride can not operate if you do not think about yourself. Pride craves glorification of your self. Pride compares everything with self. And finally, pride deceives the self. If you look at those sentences, you can easily see that it’s the thoughts regarding your self that are primary means (and the end) of pride. So, to eliminate pride, stop thinking about your self.

Humility in Prayer

“You should be humble when you pray.” That’s something I have heard a lot. I haven’t found any verse in the bible that specifically and clearly instructs this, but I know this to be sound advice. Because anyone can see the obvious problem with, “You should be proud when you pray”. So, instead of arguing upon the validity of the advice, let’s focus on what it means.

I see humility in prayer as this. Forget yourself. And more importantly, forget your own ideas of God. Sometimes, in prayer we paint ourselves as the lowest of all creatures… even as worms. And then, we go on saying how great God is. As if we can ever understand or capture his greatness in words or even abstract ideas. This I see as capturing God in a box. If continued for some time, it can take a form of limiting God. For sometimes we do not allow ourselves to pray to God, instead we pray to our ideas of God. At length, the idea of God becomes an idol.

So, in prayer one must avoid lengthy descriptions of God or your own self. For prayer is a conversation and when you converse with your friend, you do not describe who he is or who you are. You just converse. In the same way, in prayer, converse with God. Come to him as you are, accept him as he comes to you. No moderation is needed.

Humility at Large

“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” – G. K. Chesterton

That’s some perspective upon perspective. Chesterton was a master of meta-perspective. But what does the statement really say? Do you consider yourself a mountain of self achievement or are you the child that looks at his elders with admiration and love, all the while dreaming the dream of being like them. If you are former, you will only see small people, almost like insects, going about their work from the window of your top floor office. But if you are the latter, then you will see the wealth of wonders all around you.

It is a quality of humility to look outside. Pride only looks inside. And if you ever want to have friends, if you ever want to help others, you must look outside. Although the idea of “seeing the bigger picture” may be classified in some different category of classifications, one can not do it without humility. A proud man is often blinded by his own flashes of light.

A single thread in a tapestry
Through its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design

The Pride of Humility

It is the one last thing that jumps into my mind every time I think about pride and humility. A danger lies in the process of “humbling yourself”. Whenever you “humble yourself” you need to check if this exercise of humility is feeding your own ego. Enlarging your pride because you are humble!

“In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself…For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” – Benjamin Franklin