What’s the most beautiful word in the English language? Serenity, generosity, love and stillness are pretty good – but the one that wins hands down for me is humility. Humility is not meekness or timidity; it’s a quality of character that arises when we are being authentic, when we are being and living in the world with the quiet confidence of a person who is at peace with and accepting of who we are. Some of the most enlightened people I know are humble.
Despite their achievements, they don’t brag about them – their identity isn’t wrapped up in what they have done. They have presence and deep inner strength. Humble people live life with a beginner’s mind, an openness to what is new, a willingness to embrace not-knowing and a keenness to learn from others and from their life experience. Rather than investing their time and energy on getting, they focus on giving; they contribute to the well-being of others, to our society and to our planet first and foremost by their way of being and secondly by what they do. Humble people embrace their humanity and divinity.
Developing humility has the power to transform and enrich your life in ways that are both subtle and profound. It is at the heart of the 12-step addiction recovery movement and one of the master keys to living as a conscious mature human being. It’s also an antidote to the arrogance that has lead to so much of the environmental degradation, financial chaos and physical, emotional, sexual and intellectual abuse that we see in the world today.
So how do we go about developing the virtue of humility? Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Give up being right. Anytime we are identified with being right – we are making others wrong – in that moment we lose sight of our humanity and move into the ‘I am better than you’ position. When appropriate say the words ‘ you know what – you are right’
- Drop giving advice unless it’s asked for. Whenever you feel moved to advise others or control/influence others, ask yourself – ‘what is this person teaching me right now?’
- When you have made a mistake or acted in a way that has harmed others, make appropriate amends. Saying sorry isn’t enough. Tell them your intentions in respect of correcting that behaviour in future. So for example. If you shouted at your partner (acted out anger), you would say: ‘it was not okay for me to shout at you last night. I feel embarrassed about it and I apologise for my behaviour. What I really wanted to say was that I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed by what had gone on during the day and in that moment I just needed you to listen to me. Instead I got angry. The commitment I making to myself is to share my deeper feelings and thoughts with you in a respectful way and also to take responsibility for my anger when I feel angry. For example by calming myself down before I speak. I love you and I care about you.’ Its not easy to do this – but with practice it gets easier.
- Make a commitment to acknowledging reality and to experience the emotions that arise as you do so. Humble people engage and welcome the reality of reality. They engage with ‘what is’
- Get into the habit of identifying the intention behind what you do and say, before you speak and act. Ask yourself I am coming from truth, love and honesty or from deception, manipulation or control? Radical self-honesty is a large part of being humble
- Break out of the habit of talking about yourself. When you are in the company of others, ask questions about them in a way that is sincere as possible.
- Practise empathy - empathy involves being fully present to another person with our whole being, whilst allowing ourselves to fall into harmony and resonance with them. You know you are in a empathic connection when you feel an aliveness and connection between you. Whilst being empathic you are not evaluating or judging them - just deeply hearing and receiving them as they are.
- Ask for honest feedback from the people who know you. Ask them how you are doing as a partner, parent, friend, employee and/or leader? Listen to what they have to say (without getting defensive – not easy!) and take time to reflect on it and look to the possibility of making changes based on that feedback.
- Share credit when credit is due. If your work has been inspired by others make sure you mention them and acknowledge their contribution.
Author: Mark Atkinson