Life Lessons in Humility Can Boost Your Pride

In modern society, people often scream one another down in search of validation. But the validation of our human voice can come from more than just having our voices heard.

Being vulnerable with this weird image I took, Christyl Rivers

Be assertive, not annoying — it’s not that easy

In being too privileged and pushy, we alienate. In being overly timid, we lose out. But there is a middle path.

Lately, I have had a series of doctor appointments. Our health care system, famously, is broken. It is no longer personal. The doctor rarely has time, or interest, in face to face exchange and presence. Usually we have a few brief moments with a technician.

My experience is that, he or she, is too busy tapping upon a computer screen looking up to acknowledge, intermittently, that you may be there, or you may be just a wall.

Many others tell me the non-face time office visits are the new normal.

In such situations, to be heard you can become obnoxious, or you can become humble, patient, and politely assertive.

For this particular appointment, I chose polite assertion. Despite the complex hurtles of healthcare, I received most of what I needed. Had I shown any sense of “entitlement” I thought it could backfire.

But, perhaps I was not assertive enough, I am still sick; returning today, in fact to the same doctor. Wish me luck.

Making an impression as a quiet person is challenging. But, I have learned that if I display care through attentiveness, focus, ability to invest an extra moment or two, being able to make eye contact, and just listening, I can feel heard. The trouble is, most people don’t make time for this nowadays.

The other person, if they are trained in empathy, will pick up on patience and focus. Nothing perks up our primate ears better than feeling like someone actually cares. When we are attentive to one another, it highlights that our mere presence speaks to our natural ability, (even if not often our preference), to be humble.

People need to be validated as people, to hear one another.

Humility isn’t weakness

Have you felt invisible to the wider world today? Do you work in a job where people do not recognize your humanity?

I frequently have to check other’s facial expressions to remember their humanity. When we don’t make eye contact, we treat one another as tools.

We are all worthy of love, but we often have wounded self esteem because the world does not reflect this simple truth. It feels like others’ entitlement comes first. This is the high cost of social, class, racial, and gender inequality.

I used to work in phone sales (ever so burn-out briefly!) People hung up on me routinely, and often with very rude comments. I suddenly could understand why the industry prefers robo calls since robots are not so easily abused. I also understood, ironically, that one reason people hate automated calls is because they are impersonal!

It’s polite to defer to others, but make a humble effort to be seen and heard, thanking them for their attention. This accentuates to the overly aggressive that they need to sit back and share the stage.

It’s up to all of us to see that unfair privilege doesn’t not oppress, or silence, others.

Pushy people, even world leaders, often achieve that position because their champions see them as fighters who won’t back down.

We may call such leaders “strong men”, but there is nothing very strong about rule through intimidation. In fact, it suggests that the so-called strong man can only fall back on might makes right rather than character, ethics, values, and vulnerability. Rule through love and admiration is stronger than rule through fear.

Maybe we should retire the designation of “strong men” for those so weak they push more vulnerable citizens (or even nations) around.

Bullying, or despotism, is the opposite of humility. Vulnerability strengthens, whereas intimidation weakens all bonds.

Historical humility

“Humility and humiliation” share word roots, but they are not at all the same.

Throughout history are many wonderful models of humility, such as Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother, and Mary Magdalene, St. Francis, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and several lesser celebrated souls like Helen Keller, Eleanor Franklin, and Rachel Carson, to name a few.

I find that I learn the best lessons not from the loudest, brightest, or physically strongest, but from stories about how being an ultra focused underdog — like Nikola Tesla, for example — who demonstrated perseverance rather than privilege. Today, Tesla is much more fondly remembered than the powerful Thomas Edison who hoarded all the glory.

We all admire people like this, but isn’t it a kind of over-reach, almost hubris, to think we can emulate them?

Once you have made that point to yourself, however, you have approached the attempt with humility. You will not achieve perfect humility. In the words of Marie Curie, “Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it.” Albert Einstein had similar words of wisdom, as did even the often, arrogant Isaac Newton, who “stood on the shoulders of giants.”

It is not, after all, not that we can achieve peak humility and stay there. Our task is to understand our flaws, and make an effort to craft an awareness of all the times we use aggression rather than humility.

Pushing whatever privilege I have may work in the short term, but not in the long stretch. I can chat with a clerk, or wait staff, for example, and not just assume it’s because the customer is always right, or, that I make more money than a low wage employee, and therefore what I say is more important.

Demanding attention is quite different than humbly requesting it. Exchanging chit chat will not look like hubris at all. It may just feel like two human beings who mutually have something to say, even in a simple latte transaction.

Trust comes from being vulnerable

You cannot create trust without humbly presenting yourself as vulnerable. Vulnerability may be considered weakness in some situations, certainly, but it takes great courage to display. Having the humility required to put yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable to rejection, or even scorn, takes real guts.

Having real guts also leads to having a kind of pride. Taking pride in humility? It’s not as contradictory as it sounds.

May I humbly suggest, that it is our limitations with language, semantics, meaning, context, assumed roles, and assertion, that contribute to the belief that confidence equates with never facing rejection.

Instead of constant awareness of your own thoughts and feelings, your fear of rejection, take a moment to connect to the people with whom we interact day to day. When we recognize that the King is just as human as the custodian, we are far more likely to feel equal in our humanity, and more capable of creating relationships based on human appreciation.

Ad that sets the scene for a more just, thankful, and less fearful world.


Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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