Humility is a funny thing – most of us want to cultivate it, but rarely do we talk a lot about it because somehow that would demonstrate pride or at least a lack of humility. I just finished reading Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson, a great little book I’ll be coming back to several times I’m sure. In this short read, Dickson does several things for the reader – as a good historian he shows the development of the idea of humility, he shows why humility is key to all areas of life, particularly leadership, and he gives some practical advise on cultivating the virtue itself.
“My thesis is simple: The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility.”
“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of other before yourself.“
“True humility assumes the dignity or strength of the one possessing the virtue, which is why it should not be confused with having low self-esteem of being a doormat for others.”
“Since life is fundamentally about relationships, the relational virtues such as humility, compassion, trustworthiness and so on are keys to virtually all spheres of life.”
“It is a fact of our nature, it seems, that most of us have a grossly exaggerated sense of our own abilities.”
“Humility is not an ornament to be worn; it is an ideal that will transform.”
“I mean opening yourself up to the vulnerability of being wrong, receiving correction and asking others how they think you could do better. In this sense the low place is the high place. It is where you develop.”
In the last chapter, Dickson does something dangerous – he offers some advise on how to progress toward humility. The cultivation of this virtue is not an easy task, but it’s well worth the journey, as it will transform who we are and how we relate to others, both for their good and our own. Here’s a summary of Dickson’s advise:
- We are shaped by what we love, so start loving humility. See it’s beauty and fall in love and we’ll be drawn to it.
- Reflect on the lives of the humble, look to examples and learn from masters – people like Jesus of Nazareth, Nelson Mandela, and others in our own lives.
- Conduct thought experiments to enhance humility, imagine situations and how you could respond if you were humble, image the response of others and how you would deal with it.
- Act humbly, sometimes our thoughts follow our actions. We start believing and thinking in line with how we’re living.
- Invite criticism, this is a necessary step for learning, growing, and building trust and openness with others around you.
- Forget about being humble, as C. S. Lewis advises, stop trying to be humble and admit that we’re proud, this allows us to actually stop thinking about ourselves, which in the end is a pretty humble thing.
Humility has been demonstrated to us through Christ himself (Phil. 2:5-11), and we are called to demonstrate this same attribute in our lives. Dickson is right, humility is the central virtue to living well.