Sometimes pain is useful:
Mothers endure the pain of childbirth to have babies.
Runners endure the pain of training to win races.
Entrepreneurs endure the pain of uncertainty to have a chance at success.
Pain can be a guide, taking us to higher elevations. But unnecessary pain is never a good thing. There’s no reason to seek pain for its own sake.
Yet we do it frequently. Unintentionally.
Because of a little something called pride.
Pride = Pain
Have you ever obsessed over an offense, wrecking your mood for days on end? Have you ever stewed over an insult, ruining your day in the process? Have you ever reacted reflexively to a rude person or comment, resulting in a full-on argument and bad feelings on both sides?
If so, you’ve been a victim of pride.
Pride causes us to act unthinkingly and to be overly sensitive to insults and injuries. It decreases our emotional pain tolerance and makes us fragile and weak — easily hurt, easily knocked over.
There’s a reason why they say “Pride goes before a fall.”
Unfortunately, most of us have to experience the bitterness of a pride-induced fall before we really understand what this means.
But there is one powerful strategy we can use to avoid the majority of the emotional pain we self-inflict:
What IS humility?
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what humility really is. But we should.
The best definition of humility I’ve heard is:
…Humility is thinking of yourself less.
In other words, you spend more time and energy thinking about everything and everyone that is NOT yourself.
You care about others and you want them to be happy and successful more than you want yourself to be admired and praised.
You admit you are not perfect. That you do not know everything.
You look honestly at yourself and the world, without thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.
What humility is NOT
For some people, the word “humility” conjures up images of cringing, kowtowing weaklings who lack backbones. In other words, cowards.
That is NOT humility.
Let me clarify:
Humble people are not doormats.
A humble person doesn’t necessarily let other people do whatever they want. If you are a humble person, you will maintain healthy, reasonable boundaries.
If you are humble, you won’t lose your personality, sense of self, or sense of responsibility for your actions. You won’t be a pushover.
Humble people don’t think they suck
Thinking poorly of yourself is actually a form of pride.
Proud people often feel unrealistically disappointed in themselves because they assume that, deep down, they are better than others, or better than they currently are. When reality does not match this prideful assumption, people can grow cynical, discouraged, and depressed.
On the other hand, humble people don’t necessarily care about being or want to appear or feel brilliant and successful. Therefore, they are able to treat themselves and others gently and supportively whenever they fail or make mistakes.
Remember the quote that I mentioned earlier? Here it is, again, but in its entirety:
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
Basically, if you are a humble person, you won’t spend much time thinking of yourself or your desires at all. You’re too busy caring about others.
It takes courage to be humble
During World War II, a conscientious objector named Desmond Doss enrolled in the U.S. military as a medic.
Because Doss read the Bible every day, refused to touch a gun, and kept the Sabbath, he was bullied by his fellow soldiers and commanders.
But Desmond Doss did not fight back or look down on his tormentors for not agreeing with his beliefs.
Instead, Doss single-handedly rescued 75 men under enemy fire, and rolled off a cot when he was injured, in order to let another injured man take his place.
For these and other acts of bravery, Doss was awarded the Bronze Star and the Medal of Honor — the only conscientious objector to be honored in this way.
Desmond Doss’s humility helped him to bear insults, to forgive his tormentors, and to save the lives of those who hurt him. It gave him the strength to suppress his own self-preservation instincts in order to save lives.
That is a picture of true humility*.
Why should you humble yourself?
So others won’t have to.
Being knocked off a pedestal hurts. But if you don’t put yourself on a pedestal, no one can knock you off.
Jesus told his listeners not to seek the highest seat at a banquet for this reason: It’s far better to sit at the end of the table and be asked to move up, than to seat yourself at the head of the table and be humiliated in front of everyone when you are asked to step down.
Don’t put yourself in a head-of-the-table kind of situation. Don’t push yourself to the top, stepping on others on the way — because if you do, somebody is bound to come along and step on you, one day.
“This is all very nice,” you might be thinking. “But do you have any practical tips for developing humility?”
Indeed, I do. Keep reading, dear friend:
1. Don’t talk too much
A wise man once said: “When words are many, sin is not absent.” Another wise man added that the tongue is “set on fire by hell.”
That’s pretty strong language.
But it’s a pretty serious truth.
We all tend to run our mouths a little too much. There are many things we don’t need to say. If you spend more time listening and less time talking, you will not only appear, but actually become more humble, since listening forces you to focus on others’ needs, reducing your preoccupation with yourself.
2. Write the (ugly) truth about yourself
I journal a lot. And when I do, I try to write down everything as honestly as possible (after all, no one else will see it). If I make a mistake or do something disgustingly proud, I write it down. It’s painful to write and painful to read, but it’s necessary.
Because when you re-read records of past mistakes, you will not be able to think too highly of yourself.
This is particularly important if you are going through a season of success, when you are most vulnerable to an attack of pride. At these times, review those old entries regularly so that you don’t develop an inflated ego.
3. Confide in someone else about your weaknesses
When you are speaking to trusted friends, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and confess your weaknesses to them. When you vocalize your faults, you are less likely to delude yourself into thinking they’re not there.
Moreover, your friends can encourage you, and maybe your courage and humility will allow them to share their own stories. When we are open and vulnerable with each other in a safe place, pride has nowhere to hide and grow, no way to trip you up.
4. Spend time with humble people
You are a conglomeration of the people you spend the most time with — in person, and virtually. So spend time with friends who are humble, not self-serving. Read about people who live the kind of humble, courageous life you want. People like Desmond Doss, or Jesus.
In time, you’ll probably find yourself imitating those people, without conscious effort.
5. DON’T spend time watching celebrities, popular media, tabloids, etc.
The media is insane. It’s focused on making money by pulling stunts and blowing up news that is no good for anyone.
Also, celebrities must by nature maintain popularity in any way possible, and negativity attracts a lot of attention — as does immorality, unhealthy behaviors, controversy, vitriol…just don’t touch any of that stuff.
6. Avoid cynicism
Cynicism usually comes from a mentality where you think you know what’s up, but reality is not matching your expectations, and so you are bitter.
If you find yourself saying something cynical, stop. If you hear others saying something cynical, gently correct them if you can, or leave. Do not fill your mind with cynicism and bitterness. It is poison.
7. Develop a healthy sense of fear
Pride is a sneaky little bugger. It is totally possible to be doing everything right, outwardly, and still harbor the seeds of pride inside. You may think you are humble, but when you think you are humble, you are in danger of NOT being humble.
Be on guard, be afraid. Pride IS something you ought to be afraid of, considering how much damage it could do to you.
This is a constant practice, because we humans are all proud. It sucks, but it’s the truth.
You’ll have to develop the discipline of detecting and eradicating pride as soon as it pops up, the way gardeners protect their plants from weeds and pests. But it’ll be worth it.
8. Pray for help!
There are two reasons for this:
- If you are constantly aware of and focused on God through prayer, you won’t have enough mental space or energy to develop a swelled head.
- There are times when we just can’t. When we don’t WANT to be humble. Praying and asking God for help can be a good idea in these situations. (In fact, pray BEFORE you get into those situations). Prayer has a way of keeping us grounded. In any case, it can’t hurt, and it will probably help. So give it a try.
Jesus, a guy who epitomized humility, once said: “Anyone who wants to be first must be last, and the servant of all.” Then he demonstrated this concept in real time by washing his students’ feet.
This is not just some super mysterious spiritual saying that is only true in the next world.
It applies now.
Those who are the most successful and admired in the LONG RUN are usually those who voluntarily humbled themselves and refused power, prestige, and pride when it was offered to them. (think George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates)
Sure, we’ve all heard of famous, proud people who were outwardly successful. But they did not lead happy lives, nor did they make a positive impact on society. And most of them suffered ignominious ends. (Hitler, Mao, Alexander the Great)
So, learn from those who have gone before you. Learn from your own life experiences and mistakes. Don’t let pride cause you any more unnecessary pain.
Humble yourself, and be happy.
Thank you for reading
If you liked this post, please share and let me know in the comments below, I would love to talk to you!
*Desmond Doss’ story is told in the 2016 movie, Hacksaw Ridge.
This article was originally posted on Medium.