Humility: noun. a modest or low view of one’s own importance.
Any number of things may come to mind when you read this word: Wilbur, the famed pig in Charlotte’s Web; small towns where various celebrities started out; the story of a man taking up a towel to serve his followers by washing their feet.
We know it’s important. We know there’s a beauty in living it out, putting others before ourselves and denying our egos. But daily, even hourly, we fail to practice humility. From grumbling about the wait at Starbucks to yelling at the car that cut us off to writing death threats to individuals we’ve never met, it’s undeniable — humility is not our native language.
I could dig into the why. I could talk about the Fall of man and the corruptive power of sin, how from birth we’re prone to hate, to slander, to seek our own at the expense of others.
But this time, I’m not going to do that. Instead — without denying the truth that our hearts are rotten inside — I’m going to admit that I don’t know everything and there’s little reason for you to read what I write.
I’m not an expert in any area. I hold no certifications. My only degree is in writing, but I still break grammar rules. I was born in 1992, which means I’ve lived through very little of history. I still bite my nails. I’m hopelessly biased. And as much as I like to think I can figure everything out, I’m as likely to shut my computer in defeat as the next person.
I have no reason to be high and mighty, so please don’t take any of the following as self-aggrandizing wisdom-sharing. You have no reason to read what I write, but if you do, this is what I’d like you to know:
The best conversations in life happen between people who have vastly different views. Some of my favorites happened behind the counters of various places I worked with people who see the world through entirely different paradigms. Our conversations were some of the most challenging and stimulating I’ve ever experienced. If you spend most of your time with like-minded people, branch out. Find people who think differently and pursue those conversations with the objective of understanding.
Don’t be intimidated by things that are difficult to understand. The most important things in life are difficult to understand. Examples: water, light, God. People who think differently can also be difficult to understand. But difficult is no synonym for impossible.
Listening is key. If someone else is talking and you are composing your response or considering how ugly they look when frustrated, you are not listening. Reposition yourself. Place your entire focus on the other person. Soak up what they’re saying, and earnestly try to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand what they mean by their words. If you find this difficult, read more fiction.
Humility is less painful than pride. Despite its initial discomfort. Why? Because humility makes room for others, as well as yourself, to grow. Pride claims you’ve grown the tallest and no one will ever reach your greatness. Being a giant in a world of dwarves is lonely — especially when you think you’re a giant, but you’re actually just as small as everyone else.
When you don’t know, admit it. When you think you know but you might be wrong, admit it. When you realize what you said before was wrong, call yourself out. Practice humility. Because anything that doesn’t come naturally requires practice — not only when you’re out and about, but also when you’re by yourself, scrolling through Instagram and judging that girl’s selfie, this dude’s muscle tone, and that barista’s latte art. Are you really better than them? Not only in photographs but in essence, in life? The correct answer is no.
It’s better to admit when you’re wrong (or did something stupid) than to hold convictions out of pride. We’ve all had those moments when understanding floods our consciousness and we realized how stupid or off-base our previous ideas/thoughts/words/actions were. In these moments, embrace the freedom that comes with saying, “Well, I feel like an idiot” and explaining why.
Don’t judge people by their opinions. Don’t decide whether or not you’ll be friends with someone based on their opinions. Opinions change. Issues come and go. People can’t be replaced. I am enormously thankful that my extended family has completely different views on practically every single political issue. It forces me to see “the other side” as human and challenges me to understand where they’re coming from with their ideas on abortion, gay marriage, the welfare state, etc. We don’t disagree because some of us are stupid, ignorant, or barbaric. We disagree because we look at the world differently. When we take time to understand each others’ worldviews, our own perspectives broaden and we grasp complexity beyond what we originally saw. And when we fail at that, we’re still family which means we have more chances to attempt understanding and love each other without seeing eye to eye.
None of us have everything figured out. Anyone who says they do is wrong. But that’s not a reason to write them off. Maybe they haven’t learned there’s nothing wrong with the answer, “I don’t know.” Take time to get to know them. Share where you are in this journey and practice being humble in their presence. Who knows, maybe they’ll catch your humility.
“I don’t know” is not a cop-out. It’s an invitation to begin an investigation. Is there a way you could know? How can you find out? We’re able to learn and reason and discover — the exact abilities necessary for knowing. So scour the libraries, consult the scholars, study Scripture and science and history. Heck, search Google. There’s no excuse to stay in the realm of unknowing once you’ve identified what you don’t know.
Whenever the opportunity arises, offer grace. But don’t let grace be an excuse to be walked over or to allow others to continue toward destruction. Grace identifies wrongs with the expectation that they will be corrected, but it doesn’t require those corrections in order to rest in its arms. This is straight out of the Gospel, so if you don’t know Jesus, here’s a taste: All other faiths of this world ask you to live up to a standard in order to enter some sort of paradise. Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived up to that standard because it’s impossible for us. The paradise is living in His presence forever. His sacrifice on the cross allows us to come before the throne of God in awe of what He’s done for hopeless sinners like us. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” When you turn to God, you don’t return to sin. He calls you higher. Sin provides only a counterfeit joy. Like pride, it provides satisfaction for a season, but soon enough it takes its toll and you’re bound to destruction. God is all about releasing those bonds so you can live in the freedom of humility with a God who humbled Himself so you could be raised out of the pit. How do I know this? I told you, I haven’t experienced much. I’m no expert on anything. But this? This I’ve experienced.
Life is a journey. What are you learning?