humility

About a month ago I run across a person who radiates an inner light.

These kinds of people can be in any walk of life.

They seem deeply good.

They listen well.

They make you feel funny and valued.

You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude.

They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing.

They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

There is something extremely warm about humility. True humility.

But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that such people are extremely rare these today.

A lot of people I come across have achieved a decent level of career success, but have not achieved that level humility. They have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

David Brooks in his amazing book The Road to Character talks about two sets of virtues: the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.

The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace and they contribute to the external success. They are the virtues you put on your CV.

The eulogy virtues are deeper, they the ones that are talked about at your funeral, whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones.

But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light.

Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured.

You are busy with work, and other external conspicuous things, but internally you are miserable and your soul is dying.

You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.

You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K.

But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys.

Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

The self-effacing person is soothing and gracious, while the self-promoting person is fragile and jarring.

Humility is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time.

But egotism is a greedy hunger in a small space, self-concerned, competitive, and distinction-hungry.

Humility is infused with lovely emotions like admiration, companionship, and gratitude.

Occasionally, even today, you come across certain people who seem to possess an impressive inner cohesion.

They are not leading fragmented, haphazard lives.

They have achieved inner integration. They are calm, settled, and rooted.

They are not blown off course by storms. They don’t crumble in adversity.

Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable.

Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved.

They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline.

They radiate a sort of moral joy.

They answer softly when challenged harshly.

They are silent when unfairly abused.

They are dignified when others try to humiliate them, restrained when others try to provoke them.

But they get things done.

They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting the groceries.

They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing.

Actually they are not thinking about themselves at all.

They just seem delighted by the flawed people around them.

They just recognise what needs doing and they do it.

They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them.

They move through different social classes not even aware, it seems, that they are doing so.

After you have known them for a while it occurs to you that you have never heard them boast, you have never seen them self-righteous.

They are not dropping little hints of their own distinctiveness and accomplishments.

They focus on doing work that matters.

They are not after titles, awards or front-page magazine cover.

They have not led lives of conflict-free tranquillity, like everyone else they face challenges each day but have struggled toward maturity.

They have gone some way toward solving life’s essential problem.

These are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth.

In these people, at the end of this struggle, the climb to success has surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul.

After a life of seeking balance, ego-centricism eventually bows down before humility.

These are the people we are looking for.

These are the people I look forward to meeting everyday.

These are the people I hope to emulate each day.

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