Say humility and your mind might fashion an image rather quickly. It might conjure someone with a mousy appearance who is frail in weight, socially awkward, and a stifled voice on matters that would require any confrontation. It might be an image of the “ah shucks-bashful” kind of person who is embarrassed to receive accolades given to them. If that type of image splashes across your cranium, it would be wrong.
Humility is a mid place between self-abasement and self-exaltation. Humility lies between these opposites where personal self-perspective knows one’s own worth in relation to other human beings. It is, as the Apostle Paul writes, “knowing not to think of oneself more highly than you should…to think with sober judgment.” We might, however, better perceive this appropriate mid place if we more fully understood the extremes. It is as Dag Hammarskjold wrote, “Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exultation.”
Being self-abased is one extreme. We are self abased when we disgrace ourselves through conduct or dishonor our own character. We are abased when we discredit or in the ultimate sense degrade ourselves.
While there might be those that would see humility residing here, they would be mistaken. Humility does not rest with self degrading behavior, no matter how we attempt to make that definition fit. In the Greek understanding, humility never has to do with this negative connotation, but always with something good about a human being.
Likewise, humility is not self exaltation. At this end, self exaltation is haughty pride and self promotion that may take us close to delusions of grandeur. This extreme is the residence of arrogant pride, where English novelist, Emily Bronte writes, “people breed sad sorrows for themselves.”
Humility is that exacting mixture of self esteem and self worth. In sober self esteem, we have a healthy opinion of ourselves, a confidence that does not tend toward either self abasement or arrogance. Likewise, in healthy self worth, we see ourselves of value in relationship to others, a confidence that permits us to see our worth as equal to others, not as inferior or superior to those we encounter.
In living humbly, we know we are not the center of the universe, but also know we are not “scum;” we understand our proper place within our relationships and world. Rudyard Kipling seizes the essence of humility when he encourages, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings…and not lose the common touch…If all people count with you, but not too much…” then you have found that mid place where self esteem and self worth give confidence.
So ask yourself, are you living at the extremes of self abasement or self exultation? If you are, what emotional satisfaction do you receive from living at these extremes? Do you view humility as weak or as understanding your place in the universe and among others which allow you to relate confidently to the world?
Humility helps us establish a fair belief about who we are. Grace and peace to you as you discover where you reside on the continuum.