7 Signs of Humility and Arrogance-Secular and Religious Perspectives

7 Signs of Humility and Arrogance-Secular and Religious Perspectives February 23, 2019

Humility is an attribute that is frequently emphasized in the Qur’an and the Bible, while the opposite trait, arrogance, is widely condemned. Secular research on humility shows humility to be a great trait to have. Arrogance can be occult, even to arrogant people, so how do you determine if you are arrogant?

Humility is derived from the word humus, meaning earth or ground. Humility is a state of being ‘grounded’. Arrogance is the opposite of being grounded. Here are 7 signs of humility contrasting with arrogance. Having self-confidence alone in one’s ability or skills is neither a sign of humility or arrogance. It is what we make of that confidence (or not) is what makes us arrogant or humble.

#1 Self Centered vs Selfless: Humble people think and talk of others more than themselves. They are concerned with the welfare of those around them. In contrast, arrogant people’s favorite subject is “Me, I, mine and myself”. It is all about them. The humble person is more concerned about the accomplishments of others. Following famous quote says it very well (this is often mistakenly attributed to C.S. Lewis, the British author and theologian.)

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical mega church in Lake Forest, California

#2: Self Reflection: Humble people do lots of honest self-reflection and introspection. Arrogant people have a hard time with that. They tend to spend more time reflecting about others’ faults and shortcomings. It is important to keep in mind that humility does not mean humiliation and self-denigration but rather what one can do to better himself/herself. Humble people constantly work to better themselves as they see themselves as less than perfect. Arrogant people see themselves as perfect, without blemishes.

#3 “My way or the highway” attitude: Arrogant people boast of themselves and look down on people around them as inferior. Their way is not only the best way, but it is the only way. Humble persons, on the other hand, involve others in decision-making. They are often “team-players”, seeking input from others.

#4 Insecurity: Deep down, arrogant people are really insecure about themselves and their arrogance can be viewed as a defense mechanism to cover their invincibilities. Humble people, while striving to get better, feel more secure about who they are (and who they are not).

#5 Intolerance: As a result of the inner vulnerability and thinking too much of themselves, arrogant people tend to be intolerant of those who are not like them or share their viewpoints. Humble people may disagree with you but they are more tolerant of opposing viewpoints.

#6 Self-Awareness of limitations: Humble people are aware of their limitations. Arrogant people tend to be oblivious to their limitations. After all they are “perfect” and can’t possibly have any faults.

#7: Happiness: Humble people are generally happy and thankful. Arrogant people are often unhappy as they tend to shield their inner unhappiness and vulnerabilities by self-boasting.

Pride is the “anti-God” state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: Unchastely, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

Arrogant people may be suffering from Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) which  involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. Many people feel President Trump exhibits signs of a narcissistic disorder.

Secular research and views on the benefits of humility

There is fair amount of research showing the virtues of humility. Many corporate education and coaching consultants also point out to the benefits of humble leadership.

Interestingly, the empirical research on humility shows that this trait has great value. Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership. Humble people have better social relations, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful and cooperative. A recent set of studies also shows that humility is a consistent predictor of generosity. People who are humble tend to be more generous with both their time and their money.[1]

Substantial research shows that humility predicts effective leadership. Humility is associated with minimizing status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work. Dr. Robert Hogan, founder and president of Hogan Assessments[2]

Jesus shattered conventional views of leadership by demonstrating the kind of humble leadership he wanted from his disciples by washing their feet-the job of the lowest rank servant in the house at that time. Later the Prophet Mohammed and Mahatma Gandhi were inspired by this example, modeling and encouraging a humble style of leadership in their followers. Adrian Lock, senior consultant and program leader for strategic leadership at Roffey Park Institute[3]

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Qur’an and Biblical teachings on humility and arrogance

Humility is an essential trait frequently emphasized in the Scriptures. Humbling before God is at the very core of Islam and Christianity and emphasized in Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism among other religions. Muslims prostrate and put their foreheads to the ground during obligatory prayers as a symbol of ultimate humility.

In addition to Pope Francis, another person who lived by example was Abdul Sattar Edhi– a philanthropist and a legend from Pakistan, who unfortunately very few know outside of Pakistani diaspora.


Following is a very small sample of passages to highlight the virtues.

Islamic Teachings:
The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say peace (Salam). The Qur’an 25:63

And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, God does not love arrogant boaster. The Qur’an 31:18

 Remember your Lord in yourselves with humility and in private without announcing it in the mornings and evenings, and do not be among the heedless. The Qur’an 7:205

Lower to your parents the wing of humility out of mercy and say: My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up when I was small. The Qur’an 17:24

Verily, Allah has revealed to me that you must be humble towards one another, so that no one wrongs another or boasts to another. Hadith of prophet Muhammad- Sahih Muslim 2865

Indeed, humility increases the dignity of one endowed with it. Be humble, and Allah will exalt you. Hadith of Prophet Muhammad

Indeed, the most beloved of you to me and the nearest of you to my position on the Day of Judgment are the best of you in nature and in humility; and the furthest of you from me are the vainglorious, that is the arrogant. Hadith of Prophet Muhammad

The most harmful disaster for the intellect is arrogance. Imam Ali, 4th Islamic Caliph

Biblical teachings:

Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3

Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. Genesis 18:27 (Abraham’s prayer to God)

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches. Jeremiah 9:23

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:30


And in a letter to his son, Moses ben Nahman, commonly known as Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish scholar gave the following advice.

I shall explain how you should become accustomed to the practice of humility in your daily life. Let your voice be gentle, and your head bowed. Let your eyes be turned earthwards and your heart heavenwards. When you speak to someone do not look him in the face. Let every man seem superior to you in your own eyes. If he is wise or rich you have reason to respect him. If he is poor and you are richer or wiser than he, think to yourself that you are therefore all the more unworthy and he all the less, for if you sin you do so intentionally whereas he only sins unintentionally.

And one of my favorite passages from the Bible:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthews 23:12 and Luke 14:11

We have to keep in mind that Iblis/ Satan was/is a “believer”. He believes in god and day of Judgment and the prophets. What made him ‘devil’ was his arrogance when he refused to prostrate to Adam out of arrogance, and went on to defy God. All his prior worship went to waste.

That is also a reminder that the worst form of arrogance is the arrogance of piety-which unfortunately we see often.

[1] Michael W. Austin, PhD


[3] ibid

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