I was reading a list of qualities to be desired in an employee. There were many good things, but it struck me odd that quite high on the list was the quality of self-deprecation. On the face of it this sounds good, after all to be self deprecating is to be overly modest and modesty can’t be a bad thing. Then again, I’m not sure that we really understand modesty or humility. Far too often what passes for modesty or humility is actually self humiliation. Saying that you’re bad at something you know you’re good at is not humility. It is a lie. The thing about humble people is that they’re not trying to be humble and in fact they probably don’t even care about it.
As of late I have been thinking a lot about what being humble actually looks like. Over Lent I chose to give up bashing on myself. In some ways this feels like a novel concept, though honestly I shouldn’t be bashing on myself in the first place. As a Christian I have always been taught that the ideal of humility is about putting Christ first. The way that works out in practical life isn’t so much putting Christ first as forcibly making me feel second… or third… or fourth… or last. As Christians we are sinners saved by grace, yet somehow for much of Christianity we’ve refused to step into the saved by grace part of that. We kind of revel in the idea that we are in fact horrible – thank God that she saved us because we’re just dirt. This is so often thought of as being humble, it’s not it’s humiliation. Calling yourself dumb or an idiot or horrible is not being humble. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that only Christians have. Far too many people are willing to disgrace themselves in order to not sound stuck up. True humility doesn’t require humiliation.
Humility is found not in how one thinks of herself but in how she sees others. Being able to be great at something and still see how good others around you are is humility in action. Being willing to honor others without thought of yourself is humility.
When I was in college I remember reading a book where the author claimed that the root of low self-esteem was not a lack of consideration of one’s self, but rather a negative preoccupation with it. I think he was spot on with that assessment and I think it holds true to how we understand humility and modesty. Thrashing on the quality of our skill or something we did does not make us humble. Honoring those who helped us accomplish that thing is humble.
I’m trying to do the work of forgetting about myself and truly embracing those around me and honoring them for their accomplishments. It’s not easy work and it probably shouldn’t be. I’m really good at a lot of things and that’s not a bad thing, but there are also those around me that also do great things. I want to honor them and not myself. Fortunately, I don’t have to thrash on myself to get there, and neither do you.