The Gift of Humility (And Charlemagne)
Humility is defined as a modest or low view of one’s own importance. It is the act of being humble.
Many people are afraid of being humiliated. This is when something happens to a person that demonstrates they are not as important as they think they are. It surely sucks to be humiliated, but this can’t happen to a person who is already humble.
Humility is often described as an attitude you develop for the benefit of other people. Other people don’t want to hear about how awesome, important, and/or talented you are. It would make them feel bad for being such lesser specimens. You tell people you are not that great as an act of charity. Obviously, you are the greatest, but you don’t talk about it. You humility is just further evidence of how amazing you really are.
Anyone who buys into this deserves to be humiliated. This perspective gets humility exactly, perfectly wrong.
True humility is a gift you give to yourself. There is nothing wrong with believing you are awesome. When you believe you are the most awesome, and are always awesome, and must maintain constant awesomeness, then all you are doing is setting yourself up for humiliation. Nobody can be the best at everything all the time. Few people can even be the best at one thing most of the time.
Even Olympians struggle. Earning a bronze medal at the Olympics is an extraordinary achievement. Something anyone would be proud of. Unless they expected themselves to win gold. When I was younger I expected myself to be rich and happy by now. I am happy to be happy, I suppose. Or am I more disappointed that I am not rich?
Being humble doesn’t mean you can’t achieve greatness. It just means you don’t expect yourself to be great. A humble person doesn’t beat themselves up when they fail. And when a humble person succeeds, it is actually a joyous occasion. Not just another thing they had to do to justify their sense of self-importance.
Throughout history humble folks and pure narcissists have probably achieved the same amount. But the humble folks were a lot happier while they were achieving. When you think of yourself as just another person trying their best, then failure is tolerable, and success is amazing. When you think you are great, then success is just normal, and failure is the worst.
Be humble. Practice humility. Not so other people will like you, but so you won’t hate yourself. It’s not easy to practice humility. That’s why you have to practice. Don’t worry about falling into delusions of self-importance every now and again. The whole point if practicing humility is to learn that it’s ok to screw up.
When I struggle with humility, I often think of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a great emperor, a beacon of civilization after a long period of darkness. He was great because he knew he wasn’t. He tried to learn from the ancient emperors who came before him, but didn’t try to match them. How could he? They were already practically gods, and he was just a man. Some say he was actually embarrassed to be crowned emperor, because he didn’t think he deserved it.
For all his accomplishments, accolades, and conquests, Charlemagne never lost sight of the fact that he was just another person. If you asked Charlemagne what he was most proud of, he would say it was learning to read. Not glory. Not his crown. Just simple literacy. Most first graders read better than Charlemagne ever did, just to put that in perspective.
If only we could all be as humble as Charlemagne.