What is Humility?

December 20, 2015

Categories: Humility

This post is Part 1 in a 3-part blog series on how to cultivate humility in your life.

Before we talk about how to be more humble, we need to clarify what humility is. There are a lot of misconceptions about humility. The primary misconception I hear is that humility involves taking a low position, or having a low opinion of oneself. I think this is a misunderstanding of humility. Humility doesn’t mean you are depressed. Humility doesn’t mean you are weak, or that you can’t stand up for yourself.

In my research, I have defined humility using two main characteristics. On an individual level, humility involves having an accurate view of yourself—not too high and not too low. Importantly, humility involves admitting and owning your limitations. Humble individuals don’t try to hide their flaws or limitations, but rather are honest with themselves and others about their strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to the individual part of humility, I think there is an interpersonal or relational component to humility. On an interpersonal level, humility involves being other-oriented rather than self-focused. Instead of just being focused solely on their own needs and wants, humble people are focused on the needs and wants of others, and take those needs and wants into strong consideration.

So humility involves both the inside and the outside. There’s integrity between what one experiences internally and what is expressed in one’s relationships. I think both parts are necessary for true humility. You can imagine what happens when one of these is missing. Muhammad Ali may have technically been accurate when he called himself the greatest boxer in the world, but in doing this, his focus was on himself rather than others. So it falls short of humility. Or consider a person who has an inflated view of self on the inside, but focuses on the needs of others in order to climb the ladder at his or her job and get ahead. I wouldn’t consider that humility either.

Discussion: How do you define humility? What do you think of our two-part definition? Does it line up with how you think about humility, or are there parts that are missing?

Click here to read Part 2: Cultivating Humility Through Accurate Feedback

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