C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking of yourself, less”. In church, reading literature, raising our children, we always preach humility, but we sometimes don’t ever specifically say WHAT it looks like to live a humble life. I’ve been listening to Tim McGraw’s new song, Humble & Kind (in dedication to my Opa), who has some of his own ideas of what it means to be humble and kind: to visit your grandpa every chance you can, hold the door, say please, thank you, don’t expect a free ride from no one, and while these are all very great ideas, I’d like to add a few of my own to what it means to “always stay humble and kind”:
Limit the Self: If you have been in a social setting with me recently, you might have noticed that I have been quiet. That is because I have been observing the track of the conversation: who is staying what, when, and what the purpose behind these comments are. Not surprisingly, 90% of the time, I think the things we say are geared towards asserting power and control, and validating our own existence. A bachelorette party is a prime example of this–you get a bunch of girls together who don’t know each other, tied together by one common friend, so the result is everyone trying to talk over each other, trying to stamp our their territory on the bride and “prove” they know her best. You can always pick out the humble ones based on their entrances into these conversations; instead of talking over everyone, they seem to genuinely be listening, and connect their comments back to something in the conversation; they ask questions, and genuinely seem interested in the answers; they do certainly contribute a piece of themselves to the conversation, but its never to ‘one up’ someone else, never to steal someone else’s sparkle.
Donate One’s Abundance: I believe, as humans, we are each given an abundance of something, whether that’s an abundance of money, an abundance of time, an abundance of intellect, an abundance of strength, an abundance of space (I obviously have an abundance of beauty), and it’s our responsibility to give that abundance away. We all know from books like Oryx and Crake, Fahrenheit 451, 1984 that we can’t all be the same, and it’s important that we give those differences away to others. My dad recently bought this new truck, and he’s using every opportunity he can to serve others: he transports stuff for people on his free time, offers rides at the bus stop when the bus doesn’t come, takes me to school when the ‘Rolla isn’t getting out of the driveway. My dad has an abundance in his new 4×4 and he uses any chance he can get to give that abundance away. Of course, there are many others ways to do this: offering your Dutch-ness, and helping a shorter person pull something off the shelf, offering to revise a resume for a job-seeker, helping your friends move.
Avoid Entitlement: Tim McGraw says, “When the work you put in is realized/ Let yourself feel the pride but/ Always stay humble and kind”. My Opa was the epitome of fulfilling the American Dream; he immigrated to the United States with $90, and worked to build his career, and his family. These are the kind of people you see, despite their empires, still coupon shop, buy Kohls’ jeans, and drive on their tires until the very last second. You’ll find them covering the late night or weekend shifts when no one else can, giving up their seat at the baseball game for one obstructed by a pole, allowing the person behind them to jump in when a new check out line opens. They recognize that, at the end of the day, everyone needs food; everyone will pay rent; everyone will eventually experience heart break, rejection, failure, grief. These are all parts of being human, and that things, such as money, race, gender, family background, education, past mistakes do not exclude us from these experiences.
Are Constantly Working: I think working goes with entitlement; when I have attitudes of entitlement, then I expect other people to do things for me. Of course, there is such thing as over-working, and working-that-is-distressful; like, someone people immerse themselves in their work in order to hide behind some other personal issue they are dealing with (and that’s obviously a different issue). But, the most humblest people I know never stop working, whether that work is an actual job, a hobby, volunteering–because they are always seeking an opportunity to better themselves, and to help others. When my dad lost his job in the Economic Recession of ’07, there was never an option to NOT work. The very next day, he walked into Target, got himself hired to stock shelves late at night, and picked up another job, teaching driver’s ed, and spent the rest of his ‘free’ time, dropping off resumes until he secured another job in his field. But, working is just what you do, no matter what that form may be.
You find out about their accomplishments third hand: I think part of humility is doing the work just because you know work must be done. You do nice things for people, just because you want to do nice things. So, while it should be no surprise when they receive that promotion, award, pat on the back, part of being humble is not bragging about those things, so often times, as the spectator, you have to find out about those accomplishments and recognition third hand.
Pick Up Their Own Trash: Literally, they pick up the trash they leave behind, even if they are in a situation where someone else’s job is technically to pick up after them, such as eating at a restaurant or staying at a hotel. You will see them turning the light switch off when exiting a room, bending down to pick up the cup someone else dropped, stacking the plates in the middle of the table. Metaphorically, they pick up the apologies, the confrontations, the messy, emotional situations. To be ‘humble’ means that you recognize it is hard enough to live, and that it’s your responsibility to alleviate as much suffering onto others as possible, even if that requires a little more ‘suffering’ on your part.
Absorb the blow, when necessary: I think it takes a tremendous sense of self to be humble, because humility requires you to put aside part of your ego in order to accommodate for others. Usually what happens in disagreements with people is, Person A says Person B must apologize first, Person B says Person A must apologize first, and nothing ever gets solved, because people’s egos are in the way, and no one will cave, because ‘caving’ means that you must admit fault. But, a person with humility, no matter how innocent they are, recognizes how their actions might have elicited a certain behavior and are willing to hang their ego out on the streets to begin conflict resolution (of course, this could result in your ‘inability’ to defend yourself in some of these seemingly ‘nonsensical’ situations, because you are always offering up yourself in place of others, and letting others do their thing–I’m thinking of Boo Radley here).
And, forgive, forgive, forgive: My Opa was perhaps the most generous, loving man I have ever met. It did not matter where you came from, what you did, what past experiences you carried, he always treated you with the utmost respect–from the ushers at my dance recitals to the waitresses at Country Buffet–everyone received the same exact treatment from him. I think part of staying humble and kind is recognizing that we ALL have our downfalls (there IS something so central to being human, after all). We have ALL reacted in emotional ways. We have ALL let our egos get the best of us. We have ALL said things to insert power and control over others. We have ALL made bad decisions, stepped into uncharted territory, learned through mistake. But, even the Bible supports pain and suffering as a route towards enlightenment (“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning: but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” Ecclesiastes 7:4). So, I think part of staying humble and kind IS being able to forgive others, and treat them no differently than prior to whatever ills they may have caused, because, I am a perpetrator, a sinner, a corrupt, broken creature myself, and I need forgiveness as well.
Unlike other traits, committing to a humble and kind life probably means that people won’t always recognize your “noble deeds” (it’s the nature OF the virtue–if I run around, screaming, “LOOK AT HOW HUMBLE AND KIND I AM”, I’m kind of already violating Rule #1: Limit the Self). Because people are corrupt, power seeking, self-involved, they won’t necessarily notice how you have taken yourself out of conversation, absorbed the blame, picked up your own trash. People may never offer your name up for the award, because you so seamlessly and artistically go about your interactions with people.
But, what they will notice just how much they enjoy your presence, how much they crave your wisdom and advice, how much respect you have earned, even if they can’t quite put their finger on it; you probably don’t get the offensive nicknames, you rarely get excluded from social events, people rely on you for leadership positions. And to me, that life is much worth the sacrifice.