We presently live in a culture that favors the strong. In that context, “meekness” is often confused with “weakness.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Meekness is a power word. In the ancient world, it was often used to describe the winning horse in a race; they were called meek, which meant “strength under control.” The horse was tamed, but not timid.
This is also true for our perception of humility. To make the distinction, let’s call it healthy humility. Contrary to popular belief, humility is not “thinking less of yourself”, it’s “thinking of yourself less.”
Healthy humility makes you a more powerful person. So what does that look like? Here are six traits of people with healthy humility:
1. They acknowledge they don’t have it all together.
An accurate self-assessment makes this obvious. Most people value honest humility. But the challenge is accepting the events that contribute to personal humility, because it often includes some bumps and bruises — or even a near fatal wreck — to find humility.
A humble person sees the power in not faking it. People are drawn to their vulnerability, which includes embracing successes and failures.
2. They know the difference between self-confidence and pride.
Humility and confidence are meant to be in a beautiful relationship. Confidence and self-esteem do not shrink as humility grows. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi’s model of humility — passive resistance — definitely did not include weakness, poor self-esteem or a lack of fortified commitment. Confidence and humility are a great pairing.
Conversely, pride is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. And it’s typically accompanied by placing ourselves above others.
3. They seek to add value to others.
Inward reflection is healthy; inward focus can be debilitating. It’s important to care for yourself. This should be balanced with an outward focus on others and their contribution to the world. Self-awareness is not self-absorption.
Humility creates a sense of “we-ness” in relationships. Who wants a narcissist for a friend or partner? Humility becomes the social oil that prevents wear-and-tear in the engine of our relationships. The closer the relationship, the greater the potential for overheating and abrasion.
4. They take responsibility for their actions.
They don’t blame others, circumstances or genes for their actions. There might be a place for explaining actions, but not excusing them. Excuses are usually the result of pride and fear. Humility apologizes when wrong without allowing others to mistreat it. Self-flagellation is the shadow side of taking personal responsibility. Acknowledgment leads to remorse and a change in direction, not self-pity or self-loathing. Acknowledge your error and use it to become better, stronger.
5. They understand the shadow side of success.
Advancements and promotions are good. But the further we get from others, the more potential for arrogance. As a humble person moves up the chain of command, they remind themselves of the danger of power. It makes us feel self-important. This leads to arrogance, and arrogance stops listening to others. Refusal to listen creates distance. And this distance blinds us to the ugliness of arrogance. Like a mental illness, it’s delusional.
Strong leaders have egoless clarity. They are deliberate but not self-serving. They understand that it takes a leader to accomplish a little and an army to accomplish a lot
6. They are filled with gratitude for what they have.
We live in a “scarcity” society. When we take on that perspective, we miss the moments to be truly thankful. The I-want-it-now mindset never stops to realize that I’ve got it already. It’s never enough! The opposite of scarcity is not abundance. The opposite of scarcity is enough. We should be grateful that we have enough. The opposite of gratitude is living in a false world created by our ego. Humility recognizes that we own nothing. All is a gift. And we are profoundly grateful.
Humility is like a muscle. It can be weakened or strengthened. It depends on the routine and regularity of exercise. Getting in touch with our modest side sets us up for success. Perhaps that’s why, throughout history, it’s the foundation of all other virtues.
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