What does it mean to have humility? What is the value of humility? How can we practice humility? Let’s explore this oft-underrepresented attribute that is so healthy for us to prioritize in our lives: humility.
What does it mean to have humility?
The definition of “humble” can feel a bit slippery at times. Good ole’ Merriam-Webster defines humble as
- not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive
- reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
It follows then that humility is the embodiment of a humble state.
However, I’ve found that sometimes people have a tendency to misunderstand humility to be more self-effacing and inhibited rather than an expression of healthy modesty.
So let me clear up any misconceptions for the record: humility is not a state of seeing ourselves as undeserving, less than, incapable, or unworthy. Rather, being humble is acknowledging our imperfection and welcoming compassion towards ourselves rather than defensively covering up our errors with inflated pride or arrogance.
What is the value of humility?
The benefits of humility stretch to many corners of our lives. When we practice humility, we
- Invite self-compassion. Humility allows us to be kinder to ourselves in our imperfections. We don’t have to expect perfection from ourselves. Instead, we can be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes.
- Create space for compassion towards others. Being humble not only acknowledges our capacity for error, but it creates space to see and accept others’ imperfections. It levels the playing field and removes a sense of comparison or competition when we engage with others.
- Acknowledge we have room to grow. Without humility, our pride can bump out any sense of teachability. When we are humble, we acknowledge we always have more room to grow. This creates opportunity for us to learn new things and gives us permission to try things differently in the future.
- Are open to revealing our vulnerabilities. Humility allows us to accept our tendency to make mistakes, and removes any shame we might be prone to feel when we mess up. Because of this, it’s not so scary to reveal our mistakes and imperfections to others because we understand these flaws don’t define who we are.
As you can see, there are an array of benefits of practicing humility, and they also align with caring for your mental health.
How to be a humble person
“How to be a humble person” is a bit misleading. I don’t believe that humility is a trait, it is a state, so rather I like to view it as a practice.
The key to practicing humility is regularly taking a moment to step outside of ourselves and step into the mind of someone else using our curious mind. I don’t mean this in a gossipy way of trying to access information about someone’s personal life that isn’t yours to know, but to notice the thoughts and behaviors of those around you and allow yourself to wonder with curiosity how those individuals approach the world differently than you.
The best way to do this is by inviting others to share their stories. When we see someone else’s differences in the context of also seeing their humanness, it helps us be more aware of ourselves in the context of our own human story.
If you put this into practice, I encourage you to explore the stories of those that you perceive as quite different than you. Maybe they vote differently than you or are of a different faith background. Challenge yourself to be open to seeing their story. This helps release us from the echo chamber of surrounding ourselves with other like-minded people that lead us to be ever more self-inflated in our beliefs and actions.
FYI (for your inspiration):
The humble man makes room for progress; the proud man believes he is already there. – Ed Parker
Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble. -Shah Rukh Khan
Humility is the true key to success. Successful people lose their way at times. They often embrace and overindulge from the fruits of success. Humility halts this arrogance and self-indulging trap. Humble people share the credit and wealth, remaining focused and hungry to continue the journey of success.
If you aren’t humble, whatever empathy you claim is false and probably results from some arrogance or the desire to control. But true empathy is rooted in humility and the understanding that there are many people with as much to contribute in life as you.
You may also find it helpful to watch my video on practicing humility:
I hope you find these tools helpful as you learn to cultivate humility in your life. As always, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
Dr. Marie Fang is a licensed psychologist offering therapy and counseling services to individuals in the Silicon Valley. Her office is located in central San Jose. She specializes in anxiety counseling, identity counseling, and faith counseling. Learn more about Dr. Marie Fang’s Counseling Services.