The Lost Art of Humility
I was watching a clip the other day about a 911 emergency call operator who twigged that something was up with a 911 call they received. Albeit it took them considerable time to figure out that the person couldn’t speak openly because the antagonist was within earshot. Apparently the person had tried several times to get an operator to realise the issue. But eventually this one did, and in the interview said, “I was so humbled to think that I had realised what she was saying when four others hadn’t.”
“I was humbled”—perhaps one of the least subtle of the humblebrags I’ve seen. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘humblebrag’, it means to boast whilst seeking to appear humble.
It crops up all over social media—self-promotion in many ways being of the essence of social media. Often it incorporates a complaint of some sort, which acts as a foil to the real boast, “Why do I always get asked to work on the most important projects—something ordinary would be nice for a change!”
Or it may be a photo with a self-deprecating caption, but with some carefully positioned designer item in the background—a sort of “Hey, I want you to notice, but I want you also to notice that I didn’t want you to notice. I want the kudos for both.”
It is the manner of doing it—a desire to appear virtuous, while desperately drawing attention to your achievements, possessions, status, etc.—that sticks in the throat. Ironically, studies have shown that people prefer the honesty of a straightforward boast! We don’t like the sleekit duplicity of the false humility.
Recently I keep seeing it in a different guise. It openly uses the word ‘humble’—using it where ‘honoured’, ‘delighted’, or ‘thankful’ would suffice.
“I’m humbled to have been given the opportunities to compete with the best in the world.”
“I’m humbled that I was able to conquer the ocean.”
“I’m humbled to have been voted number one…”
“I’m humbled” simply seems to be trying to claim another accolade—that of humility. But it doesn’t work that way. Humility is a matter of the heart not the vocabulary.
CS Lewis once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
This is our great problem: we think too highly of ourselves, or too frequently about ourselves. We wonder what other people think of us, and in this era we are desperately aware of cultivating image. But a thin verbal veneer of humility is more fleeting than the sound waves which carried it.
True humility is not heard by talking about it, but by talking about others. By being less focused on self, and more focused on those around us. Ask yourself how much of your conversation with others starts ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘my’?
True humility is seen in serving out of the limelight—away from the attention of social media, rather than carefully documented ‘acts of kindness’.
How is it we can get out of our own way? Ultimately that only happens as we come to know the One who is truly humble—Jesus Christ. We need him to save us from ourselves, and when that happens he starts to work a deep humility in us, from the inside out.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Your attitude should be the as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness…
he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2)