“Humility,” wrote the famed author C S Lewis, of The Chronicles of Narnia fame, “is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself, less.”
It’s so simple, isn’t it? Something of an underlying philosophy that can do nobody any harm. It costs nothing to demonstrate except a little pride, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it? Humility too indicates respect, which is something that we may feel for someone, but we find it intensely difficult to express, without feeling we are weakening ourselves. I like the very idea of humility in practice, because whether you are ‘better or worse,’ ‘more or less,’ than another, being humble indicates that there is still something to learn from others, and what better can we know of ourselves, or have others say about us?
Humility is not a quality that ensures sainthood for mere mortals, but really, it’s not a bad place to start, is it? We can feel much better about ourselves if we acknowledge the bold nature or confidence in others, we are not ‘giving anything away,’ simply acknowledging the realities of God’s gifts. It creates a divide between wisdom and arrogance, between the ability to wield power effectively, and the illusion of power that is craved by so many pretenders. That candidate for sainthood, Mother Teresa, spoke often of humility being the mother of virtue, and being a quality that is “real and ardent,” and that if devoted to your purpose, “nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are.” The humble know when to stop and go, push, and pull, praise, and rebuke, because they have been there themselves, and know its limits, its value, and its far more priceless recognition.
William Shakespeare, that doyen of all playwrights, offered this in ‘Henry V;’ Act 1; Scene 3: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead! In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.” In doing so he wrote of the latent strength of humility, and the depth of character that lurks below, contending that strength, and strength of purpose, even ferocity, abound among the humble. He was critical too, of those without the quality, writing in ‘All’s well that ends well;’ Act 4, Scene 3: “Who knows himself as a braggart, let him know this, for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass,” confiding that without humility, you have no character worth mentioning.
Irish rock band, The Script, have a unique societal perspective to their music, and they sing of how you can beat your chest, move mountains, and shine brightly, all you like, but that you must find yourself, to be the champion, to be all you can be, whether a teacher, an astronaut, a politician, preacher, or simply a believer. The thing about humility is that you cannot really ‘practice’ it! You either embrace it and live it, or you don’t! Like pregnancy, you either are or you aren’t, and it’s not a quality we can consciously develop, but rather one we open ourselves up to, or the possibilities for ourselves, of.
To have honour, to be reliable, to have resilience, and to exhibit perseverance, are all genuine qualities. However, to imply, no, let’s be definitive about this... humility implies a strength of character that we are all capable of, but few genuinely achieve. Oh, many lay claim to it, but their appearance is rarely matched by the reality, and in their shallow propagation of this most admirable of qualities are usually hoist, at some time or other, by their own petard, and as we know, the ultimate reassurance of humility comes from the immaculate Prophet Muhammad himself, (pbuh), saying, “The best of people is he who more humbles himself, the more his rank increases.”