Humility is an important virtue that brings balance to our lives.
What is humility?
To begin with, it’s helpful to understand the real meaning of the word—or, at least, to know where it comes from. Humility comes from the Latin word “humus,” which means soil, ground, or dirt. We’ve all heard the expression “having your feet on the ground,” right? That’s kind of what it’s about: humility means being in touch with reality, being properly oriented in the world, not up in the clouds of pretense and vainglory.
Humility also means a true awareness of what you’re worth, not what you think you’re worth or what other people say you’re worth.
Many of us aspire to great things in life. We have reasonable ambitions: we want to be successful and relevant in our profession, our family life, and our community. Sometimes, though, our ambitions could be unhealthy and disordered. They could lead us to neglect certain aspects of our life that are more important than what we’re seeking. Humility corrects our exaggerated ambitions, and it helps us give things their proper time, place, and priority.
Be forewarned, however: it isn’t easy. When we find ourselves immersed in something we’re passionate about, that thing can expand like a gas and occupy all the spaces of our life. For example, if we love our work, it can start to get in the way of our family life. Or, if we love having a good time with our friends, it could mean we end up not studying enough. In either case, being humble means recognizing when we’ve gone too far, admitting it to ourselves and others, and correcting our behavior.
“Remember you are dust …”
This can also happen with things that are less healthy than work or friends; when we focus too much on indulging ourselves without regard for our duties towards God, others, and even towards ourselves, we can end up with serious problems. We can also end up there if we’re too proud to ask for help when we see we’re in trouble due to our own behavior or that of people around us. We may discover we’ve crossed a line that we always said we would never cross: drugs, alcohol, sex, unhealthy relationships, corruption, lies, infidelity…
When we fall very low, we discover that we’re made of dust or dirt—”humus”—and sometimes that realization could even lead us to despair. We can be assaulted by the temptation to say, “There’s no going back for me anymore. I might as well stay here in the ‘dirt.’” Or, we could suffer an attack of pride—”How could I, who am so great, have fallen so low?”—and we could begin to hate ourselves because we can’t stand to see who we really are.
An active virtue
Being humble helps us to preserve our hope when we hit rock bottom. We need only to say “I’m a disaster” once, and then move on, getting back on our feet and looking for solutions. We shouldn’t get wrapped up in our misery as if there’s no way out. Humility is an active virtue. It’s not about berating ourselves, bending our head down, and not looking anyone in the eye; it’s about recognizing the truth of who we are and our duties, leveraging our strengths to the best effect while acknowledging our weaknesses.
In our day-to-day life, there are a variety of ways we can live out the virtue of humility:
- Go about our business without unduly trying to draw other people’s attention.
- Give the best of ourselves for a cause that is greater than us, not for our ego.
- Ask for help if we need it.
- Not concern ourselves with what other people may think about us when we do good things.
- Understand that each one of us has our own path, and not everyone has to follow ours.
- Be thankful to God and to others for all we have received, especially when things turn out well.
- Recognize that we don’t know everything and that we have a lot to learn from our superiors, our peers, and those below us in age or authority.
- Before complaining, we should consider the good that can come of whatever has happened to us, whether it is good or bad.
- Ask forgiveness from the people we have hurt or offended.
- Maintain an attitude of openness and listening.
- Not hide ourselves when we are aware that we have abilities that could improve the world we live in.
Don’t forget the foundation
Perhaps the first step to living with humility is to recognize that we are creatures of God. We were created with love, for a purpose, and are just one of God’s many children. We have freedom, but are called to exercise that freedom, not to satisfy our whims, but to reach the fullness of life and holiness for which God has created us. It’s not a goal we can reach alone, because we are all part of God’s creation with a part to play in a larger picture. We are pieces of a puzzle. We need to ask God for help and we need to work side by side with those around us in order to fulfill our potential, to truly fill our place in the world. When we recognize that, we will turn to God for strength and guidance, and He will help us know ourselves and act accordingly.
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