One of the concepts of spirituality I’ve long struggled with is that of humility. Growing up, the value of humility was highly regarded and stressed - especially in my church community. I thought that other people possessed some secret I didn’t know about because I could never obtain the feeling of humility when it came to my accomplishments. Instead, I always feigned humility while inside feeling triumphant, proud, and, even sometimes,grandiose. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to feel confident (also a quality whose importance was stressed) and humble at the same time. They seemed to contradict each other. At some point in my mid-20s, I became acutely aware of this emotional paradox. It became so severe that when I began to feel this way, I would become disgusted with myself. I could recognize it on my face in pictures and videos and in my voice on recordings. This feeling was arrogance. I knew that this was a quality I wanted to avoid, but I couldn’t figure out how. So I tried to hide it from the world.
What stood in my way of really understanding humility was my conception of the real life examples who were touted to espouse this enigmatic trait (basically, Ghandi and Mother Teresa). They seemed awesome, but completely inaccessible. I mean, they were out there fasting, surrounding themselves in struggle, poverty, turmoil. And for what? I did not understand, and more importantly, I could not relate. What I knew, however, is that I didn’t want to be humble if it meant living that way. But, you know what? I’ve come to learn that I don’t have to. There is a way to be humble and confident and still be relatable to the person I am and want to become.
The issue I recognize with humility is the giving away of credit. If I accomplish something, it is important that I am able to tell people what a great job I’ve done. While it may be accurate that I’ve done a great job, there is also truth in the idea that I will never be solely responsible for anything I accomplish. In fact, if I really break it down, my accomplishments are based upon an infinite set of circumstances that were outside of my control. What I do that is good is to take control of what I can and to do my best at it. Humility is the recognition of this fact; that most of what has happened is outside of my control and therefore not mine to take credit for. In this way, I’ve welcomed in a sense of awe and wonder that something so spectacular could happen for me. This is gratitude.
When I operate from a place of gratitude, I am open to accepting the awesomeness of the universe that allowed me to achieve a goal. I feel warm, content, and inspired. Really gooey stuff. From this place, I am able to feel pride for my part in a way that feels balanced with recognition of all other forces that allowed for this success. It allows me to avoid arrogance, as I recognize that I am just a small part of what’s happened and am not an omnipotent being that willed my desire into existence.
When pride takes over and turns into arrogance, we become convinced that it is just us who have succeeded. We begin to believe that we did it alone, that we don’t need others, that we are separate from the disparate factors in the universe contributing to our success. This separateness is an illusion - success does not exist within a vacuum of isolation. In time, this separates us from others and can lead to the dangerous belief that we have more control than we do. I challenge you: the next time you find yourself swelling with pride, allow yourself to recognize what great work you’ve done. Then, make sure to take some time to recognize and appreciate all of the other forces that helped you along the way. And feel grateful!