Humility is a Life-long Pursuit
“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility.”
* The Holy Bible (Proverbs 18:12)
We live in a world that misconstrues the virtue of humility as a sign of meekness, timidity, lack of resolve, and, in general, a personal and leadership inadequacy. Could anything be more imprudent?
As the following narratives of great people will illustrate, humility is the bona fide characteristic of the truly accomplished and well-adjusted people. These great men and women live the life of modesty, unpretentiousness, and supreme confidence. They do not bear a sense of self-superiority and pride.
The Humility of Dr. Albert Einstein
Sometime in the ’50s, Don Merwin, a producer of the ‘This I Believe’ radio program, visited Albert Einstein’s home in Princeton, New Jersey. He was to record Einstein speak his essay, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man” for the program. Don Merwin later recalled his experience: “I started setting up [the bulky tape recorder], and Dr. Einstein, who was a very amiable man, was chatting with me and expressed curiosity about tape-recording, which was fairly new in those days. He said, ‘How does it work?’ I started explaining the electronics of it, the way that the recording heads imprinted a signal on the moving tape. All of a sudden, I froze up. I said, ‘I am lecturing to Albert Einstein on physics!'” [Source: Allison, Jay, et al. (editors) “This I Believe: the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.”]
The Humility of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna
Look at this 2007 picture from Deccan Herald, via Churumuri. Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, the 79-year old celebrated Indian Classical vocalist, expresses deep reverence and seeks the blessings of the 96-year old Dr. Gangubai Hangal, another legendary vocalist.
The Humility of Sri Veerendra Heggade
How about this 2009 picture from Karnataka News (via Churumuri?) Sri Veerendra Heggade, the widely respected guardian of a prominent temple in South India, holds an umbrella to shield from sun blaze the chairman of a culture convention at a parade in the latter’s honor.
The Humility of Peter Drucker
- Executive-education student Cathy Taylor remembers Peter Drucker conscientiously writing down autograph seekers’ names on a napkin to get the spelling correct before he made the formal inscription.
- Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard remembers Peter Drucker “apologizing for taking so long to answer the doorbell at his modest home in Claremont, California. He said he was still adapting to his new artificial knees.”
Call for Action: Try to Practice Humility
Humility is simply the absence of pride. Humility and modesty are the marks of a genuine individual. However, practicing humility is often easier said than done. Deplorably, our society and world of work characterizes humility as significantly antithetical to the impression of the intelligent professional and competent leader. It is rather easy to succumb to the temptation to enhance our ego.
Hard as it may be, try to practice humility whenever an opportunity arises. Here are few remainders to bear in mind.
- Stop interpreting humility and unpretentiousness as signs of submissiveness, timidity, lack of confidence, insecurity, and diffidence
- Practice assertiveness, not aggressiveness
- Never confuse humility with false modesty
- Compliment others sincerely, avoid flattery
- Give credit where it’s due and describe achievements in terms of “what we did”
- Acknowledge the role of people and circumstances in your successes
- Tone down your authority and look to promote others
- Smile more. Say, “thank you,” “please” and “sorry” often.
- Try not to yield to the temptation to one-up people and gain an advantage over them
- Demonstrate curiosity and a genuine interest in the fellow being
- Avoid swagger, do not feign to be a “know-it-all” or “holier than thou”
- Respect others for who they are and show consideration for everybody
- Acknowledge what you do not know and be open to learning
- Own up to your mistakes and acknowledge your personal shortcomings
- Invite criticism and tend to feedback you receive
- Value others’ opinions and be open to change
- Avoid pretentiousness and conduct yourself in a manner that befits your true talents and shortcomings.