Humility is not an easy characteristic. Many often mistake the meaning of humility for humiliation, but it is not quite the same. They both share the same Latin root, Humilis which means, “low.” Both have their root in the state of being ‘lowered’ in some fashion. Although humility can sometimes follow humiliation, it doesn’t have to be that way. One can strive for humility without suffering humiliation. Let’s first define humiliation and see how it differs in meaning from humility.
Humility – is the freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble.
Humiliation follows something that embarrasses us or had defeated us in some way. Humility is more of the state of fitting into ones skin or being “right sized” in the world. Humility is a characteristic to strive for in order to have ‘spiritual character-building.’
Why should we strive for humility?
- If we don’t – we cannot attain true happiness.
- Without humility, we cannot live into our life’s true purpose.
- We will not be able to find the faith to endure setbacks or calamities.
In the Bhagavadgita, humility is defined as an absense of self-importance.
The quality of humility is seen as Divine, and is necessary for the concept of surrendering to God’s will. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One must become as humble as the dust before he can discover truth.” It is only in our lowest points that we discover inside ourselves what is most important and real. Although most of us do not attain the humility that Gandhi possessed, it is still a valuable ambition.
I love the story of the man who traveled on a train in the same coach car as Gandhi. However, the man didn’t know that the man in the coach was none other than Mahatma Gandhi. All night, the man lay down and took up the entire coach. He pushed Gandhi with his feet, leaving Gandhi with little room. Gandhi didn’t complain. It would have been easy had he said, “Sir, do you know who I am? I am none other than Mahatma Gandhi – give me some space.” But he did not do so.
As the train pulled into the station, the man mentioned that he was going to see the famous Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi still said nothing. Then Mahatma Gandhi descended from the train. There were thousands of people waiting to welcome him to their city. The man from the coach fell as his feet and begged Gandhi for forgiveness. And of course, Gandhi was gracious and forgave him. All he said to the man was to be more respectful to others regardless of who he thinks they are.
Another definition: Humility is not about thinking less of ourselves. Instead, it’s about thinking of ourselves less.
Humility is honest arrogance. It’s not about being lowly or less than, but rather, honest about who we are and what we are about. I know that I am good at certain things. I don’t have to brag about the things I’m good at. I know my competencies. However, I am also painfully aware of my incompetencies and don’t try to over-inflate that which I am not good at. For instance, I’ve often mentioned that I do my best wedding, funeral or babynaming when I am out of the way. My ego is my biggest obstacle. But lifecycle events are NOT about me! So, when I disappear, I am at my best. Which seems counterintuitive, but it’s really not.
How Do We Attain Humility?
To attain humility, we have to develop our character. We need not look to satisfy our material desires, but rather to seek to deepen our spirituality. Humility in a nutshell is the desire to seek and do God’s will.
We have to stop believing that we have any power outside the power that is granted to us. Failure used to be a problem for me. Today, failure is a price I pay to humbly understand that I was not seeking to know what God wanted for me. Rather, I was trying to dictate to God what was my will. That usually didn’t work out so well. Unfortunately, life would invariably bludgeon me into some form of submission. The pain of that experience was my ticket into a new place. My willingness to seek out God’s will for my life only seems to increase my ability to attain success. I no longer fear pain, because pain let’s me know when I am not living into God’s plan.
Finally, humility is the willingness to serve others. This means putting others’ needs before your own. But when we do, the rewards are great. Years ago, right after I had given birth to my twins, someone wanted to come see me. She was in some distress, so I agreed for her to come over, but frankly, I wasn’t in a place to visit with someone. I was sleep deprived, cranky and not in a good place. She arrived and a few minutes later, I was rapt with attention listening to her problems. I was so focused on her, it was like I had disappeared! And when I realized I was ‘back’ in myself, about an hour had passed. I emerged from that time with my friend, stronger, more energetic and present. By getting out of myself, I found newfound strength and ability.
When I have some measure of humility in my life:
- My skin seems to fit better and I am not as uncomfortable in my own body.
- I am more God reliant, my life works out better than my trying to run my life on my own.
- It’s how to find true peace of mind and serenity.
And that, was what I had been seeking all along: True peace of mind and serenity. Until we meet again, may you be blessed with humility and serenity on your spiritual journey!