Humility in a modern world
Nominated by Bronwen Rees
The beautiful side to humility is that you can celebrate other people and look for ways to learn and grow as an individual, not sink in self-pity.
When I think of humility, what springs to mind is that great saying to “eat humble pie.” This means to act humbly and respectful when you are wrong in a situation. Very few of us react well to embarrassment and shame; it goes against our very nature and for most, we have to learn how to bounce back from crimson tinged cheeks. Take politicians for instance, they rarely admit to being wrong and instead say they were misinformed of the facts or are unable to comment (let’s not talk politics in the current UK climate). They have the option to act humbly, they could even apologise and show the faults of their character, however they never do. So when we say humility what do we mean? “The quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance.” It means being able to recognise that you are not the most important person in any given scenario. This could be with your partner when discussing a recent argument or in the workplace in a meeting when you let someone else have their five minutes. I think humility is a rare quality to find in someone, as the act of being humble requires modesty and self reservation and these two attributes can be easily confused with being passive, insecure or submissive. The word originally comes from the Latin, "humilitas", which is a noun related to the adjective "humilis", translated to mean "humble", which is associated with being "grounded" and "from the earth" since it derives from "humus", meaning earth. I love the idea that humility is so deeply rooted in nature as, at its best, it is raw, selfless and innocent. It is unspoiled and does not get distracted or concerned with the fuss and frills of being alive, such as materialism, concepts of ‘success’, opinions, attitudes etc. I also feel like the word represents a state of mind and thinking that is calm, balanced and unselfish. This quote captures the word and concept beautifully, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” How many of us can say we do this on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis? In all honesty, there are very few moments in my life when I feel I have truly thought of myself less and thought of others more. It doesn’t happen. Life is busy and we are so engrossed in our own routines and plans, we can almost be called blinkered. When I Googled examples of humility some made me chuckle. Yes, letting someone in front of you in a supermarket queue is a basic example (which I have definitely done) but it doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of humility. Though it is fair to say these moments are done without the need for publicity such as recognition or to tell someone and we all have chances in our days, weeks and months to do small or big acts and not seek anything back from doing them. Go on, give humility a go next time you are in Lidl or Tesco. Not long ago I was in a coffee shop buying a round of hot drinks for my friends and I was twenty pence short. The guy behind me in the queue simply gave me the money and said enjoy your drinks; he had no gain or motive and this small act just made me think that classic line “there are nice people in this world”. It sounds cliché but we all can have such an impact on each other’s lives and it only takes these small tokens to make this world a beautiful, better place. The pass-it-on mentally; where you do one act and then someone will do another for someone else and it continues like this from person to person. The moment in my life that is most striking and closely aligned with humility is my Mum being diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. It completely shattered my world and the veil of invincibility was pulled from underneath me. However this situation made me forget myself, whether intentional or not, and instead I spent the following months and year taking Mum to appointments, providing emotional support and sitting through numerous chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. It was so hard to watch someone you love go through such an ordeal. I openly admit that this is not a happy example of humility but it is poignant in my life and showed me how suddenly my own existence didn’t feel so important. I truly feel there is something so bittersweet about the fragility of life and it puts a lot of different emotions in perspective and one being your own role in someone else’s life; to the point where you would do anything for them, even before your own needs and wants. With this said, it is important to say, that humility should not be confused with putting yourself down or to forget yourself. The beautiful side to humility is that you can celebrate other people and look for ways to learn and grow as an individual, not sink in self-pity. If I rewind back to an 18 year old version of me I would not nearly be able to explain, let alone relate, to the word humility. I was too concerned with my future, my career, going out and in all honesty, being materialistic and vain in comparison to current day me. Life experiences, people and situations have encouraged me to meet and face this virtue called humility. I don’t think humility escapes any of us. I believe humility to be deeply rooted within all of us, though we have to dig deep to find it and be confident to be overcome social and individual constructs in order to be humble. We have to dismiss our own egos and inner voices that crave attention. For some people, they can go a whole lifetime and not practise humility. Think of how many people you know that feel they have to act a certain way or be at a certain point in their life; however this is merely a construct, one that clouds our visions and make the ‘self’ seem the most important. This creation of the self is found in our everyday lives as well as online, with social media platforms dominating most of our lives (whether we like it or not).
What makes humility so challenging for most people is how it is so closely entwined with pride. As we know, pride is such a strong emotion and it controls how we act as well as what we think of others.
An obsession with the self in the social media vortex Humility doesn’t work so well online. Our current society is saturated and consumed by the internet. It encourages people to be self indulgent. I imagine you’re reading this right now and you have at least one of these social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat - I could go on. These social platforms don’t encourage humility; they encourage vanity, the ego and a need to be liked (quite literally). It isn’t a place for humility to reside. A recent Ted Talk summed up the downfall of the ‘just be yourself’ culture we find ourselves in. We are so inward facing as opposed to outward. We are told we need to focus on our own identity and to who we want to be, though this just encourages a selfish, blind culture. We are so driven to show the world who we are that we can forget that the world can show us others. The world is much bigger than what is inside of us. Therefore I tend to take social media (and the internet really) with a pinch of salt and appreciate and see it as a system, a vehicle. I have a blog because I started it at university and know its value to help secure future copy writing jobs. My social media accounts are to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances across the world and to ‘stay connected’. I am well aware these accounts do not make me ‘me’ and if tomorrow the internet disappeared I could handle that. It takes a heightened level of awareness to recognise our creation of our selves both online and offline and realise we are a construct. “If a drop of water falls in a lake, then it has no identity.” Humility works best when we see ourselves as less important and a cog in a bigger system; a drop in a lake. What makes humility so challenging for most people is how it is so closely entwined with pride. As we know, pride is such a strong emotion and it controls how we act as well as what we think of others. It provides us with enjoyable feelings of satisfaction and pleasure and most people don’t want to go against those positive emotions. However, pride is typically concerned with the ‘who is right’ principle whereas humility flips this and looks through the lens of ‘what can be seen as right’ (without any need for recognition or response). Humility means to remove the self (the bits that make us ‘us’ i.e. views on life and society, personality types, aesthetics etc.) and be able to let others grow and benefit without the need to gain anything personally. To strip everything back like this is not easy. There are very few moments in life when we can truly let go of the ego and self importance. The only time I feel this sense of detachment and freedom I suppose, is when out hiking. When I am walking between a valley or up a mountain, I can literally feel the reality that we are all tiny specks on this planet. It makes me realise that my own self importance is not important. I don’t feel the need to make any funny jokes or quips. I try to encapsulate and remember this feeling and use it when practising humility. To remind myself of what it feels like to not worry about your own body and mind but instead focus your attention on others. Freedom from thinking about yourself at all. I hope I have managed to scratch the surface of humility. In any case, my parting words on how to start and approach humility are: be gentle with yourself and be gentle towards others.
Becca spends most of her time outdoors and when she’s not climbing a mountain, hill or hiking the South West Coast path, she is cooking and blogging over at www.thelittleveggiekitchen.co.uk. You’ll also find her reading, ‘spinning’, going to yoga and pilates and travelling on a shoestring budget when she can. Follow her views on @bexybex74 and adventures on Instagram.
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