Being humble doesn’t make you weak. It actually makes you a better person.
I wrote those words several years ago and I thought it time to revisit them. It happens each time I meet a man or woman whose ego seems to have outpaced their humanity, whose preoccupation with themselves supersedes their concern for those around them.
They are not alone. I admit there are times when my ego gets a little too big for its britches and needs to be taken down a notch or two. And the best way to counterbalance an overstimulated ego? It’s to remember the important role humility can play in our lives.
By definition, humility is a modest view of one’s own importance. John Templeton described it as “a virtue, a character trait that allows one to think and reason well. It is related to open-mindedness, a sense of one’s own fallibility, and a healthy recognition of one’s intellectual debts to others.” Compare that to the ego which is prone to display “arrogance, closed-mindedness, and overconfidence in one’s own opinions and intellectual powers.”
Being humble means keeping the ego in check.
Templeton believed that the biggest barrier to you and I becoming the people we were meant to be was our personal ego. It’s the part of us that wants to be in control, make a good impression, prove a point, show our superiority. Yet for all its self-certainty, this aspect of our selves is often flawed and lives a rather shallow existence. Templeton explains that:
The personal ego identifies with our appearance, our achievements, our possessions. It is this self that is inclined to compete with others, and to feel hurt or angry if it doesn’t get what it wants. It is this self that wants to feel important, to always be right and in control.
Templeton goes on to tell us that within each of us is a part separate from the ego, a “higher self,” that contains “a spark of the divine.” In many people, this higher self is hidden by the personal ego which can dominate and overpower it. We don’t see the powerful, greater part of ourselves because “we are blinded by our identification with the personal.”
Yet, solely identifying with the ego can be a mistake, because our higher self “is infinitely more loving and wise and is always there for us.” The ego may not like it–but if we put it aside and identify with this higher, more humble part of our being, we come to recognize that “this is our real, essential self.” Templeton goes on to say:
To truly express greatness in our lives, we must learn to be humble. It is not our own personal greatness we should express, but a power far greater than ourselves. When we are willing to put aside the whims and demands of our personal selves (or ego) to listen to the guidance of the greater self within, we gain access to an infinite source of power.
As the philosopher Jacob Needleman points out, when we escape the “day-to-day self” known as the ego, we realize there is something greater out there that lives both outside us and within us. It benefits us to diminish our ego, for it helps us realize our true potential and contribute to a greater good. In Needleman’s words:
Everything the ego always wanted—safety, security, happiness, the ability to give and receive love—is granted by this great thing outside me. Yet it is given to me within. In that moment the ego submits, because it realizes that this great gift is not of its own making. This gift comes from God, and anyone can have it.
Can greater humility lead to greater love?
In a recent blog post titled Having Humbleness in All We Do, deli owner and life philosopher Ari Weinzweig gave us his take on the importance of humility. He believes that “an increase in humility would lead us all to more love, more care, more kindness and, I’m pretty sure, peace and dignity.” Ari explains humility this way:
Mozart once said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Humility fits that frame. It’s the space between the sounds. The whisper between the words. The energy between the egos. Humility is both ethereal and essential. Like great music, it’s hard to measure—and often goes past unnoticed by casual listeners. But if we pay close attention, we can begin to benefit from the beauty and grace that humility brings to the world.
Weinzweig believes there is a place for the ego as it “helps us to stand up for what’s right, to speak our minds, to put our art out into the world.” But he goes on to say that “on its own, the ego creates all kinds of problems. Humility is the counter-rhythm. It balances out the ego, brings us back to ourselves.”
The key to increasing humility? Ari tells us it’s “regular reflection.” This can include “journaling, intentional mindfulness, talking about your struggles with friends who are themselves grounded in humility.” It might also include an honest assessment of your relationships to those closest to you, including neighbors, co-workers and family members. Are you leading your life led by the ego—or through the humbler, higher self? It’s a question we might ask ourselves daily.