Embracing Humility


“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” - Ernest Hemingway

Lately, I’ve been kind of hard on myself. Maybe for good reason; as I seem to be saying really stupid things. Now, I know that’s not kind self-talk, but seriously, my filter for what I’m saying just seems to be broken. Granted, we never can be sure how another person receives our words, but just hearing them come out of my mouth, I wish I could rewind and redo. Maybe it’s an over-scheduled brain, distractions from little mouths below me hanging on my leg, or maybe it’s just as it’s supposed to be.

Say what?

My mom had some wise words for me. She told me about a Franciscan priest and writer she had been listening to, Father Richard Rohr. He speaks about humility and keeping our egos in check. He suggested to welcome, to pray in fact, for a moment of humiliation for ourselves as least once a day. The second part of this practice is to watch your reaction to your moment of humility.

This is the concept to actually invite unpleasantness into our personal worlds. How the heck can this be a good thing? So, I gave some thought to his words and his explanation to help make sense of it for myself.

The first part of inviting a humiliating moment helps us remind ourselves we are not perfect, and to drop the need to defend. If someone disagrees with us or we make a mistake, there is often a desire to prepare a quick defense. We need this person to understand our position and why we are actually right. We need to correct to get back to 100% no mistakes for the day. Or do we?

The notion that we can’t be wrong, that we can’t be vulnerable is purely a requirement of our ego. And yes, our ego serves a purpose. Yet it can also hinder us from our greatest growth. Our ego needs to defend the present; what currently is. It can’t allow for change because to acknowledge a need for change, something must be wrong – but it can't be with us. The ego plays on this and tries to self-correct; blaming others, reshaping the truth, whatever it takes to get back on top.

Yet, these behaviors don’t help us move forward, and quite often they just tangle the web even more. When we let go of the ego, we humble ourselves. We take ourselves, and everyone else, off of the pedestal, releasing the expectation for perfection. We recognize mistakes are part of being human. We give ourselves a chance to move through the discomfort, possibly even pain, and reach a new level of awareness for ourselves, and more importantly acceptance of ourselves.

To invite humiliation is not appealing to me. I sometimes feel like I already do humiliate myself at least once a day, if not more. My goal lately has been to decrease the incidence of humiliation, not create more. I’d like to not leave every conversation cringing. Well, I’ve tried fighting my habit of making mistakes, and all that ends up happening is I am more critical of myself. When I am more critical of myself, I don’t feel good. When I don’t feel good, I’m not as good to others. You get the point. It’s a vicious cycle. So, I figure, what the heck, I’ll give this a try.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to say or do something I wish I could take back and redo. But this time, I let it be. I watched my reaction to my own “humiliation”.

What happened was not what I predicted.

First, it was uncomfortable. No news there. I then dug a little deeper and realized I felt vulnerable. That was even more uncomfortable of a feeling. Even some old memories of similar times when I felt vulnerable came back. Ugg. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. I like feeling strong and in control. But I realized it takes a lot of energy to keep control, even a surface appearance of control. When I was able to completely surrender to my need to have as much control of a situation, I physically felt tension release. I didn’t feel the need to keep talking, to keep moving, to keep aware of every single little thing I (or someone else) might be doing right or wrong. Slowly, I began to feel a calm, an acceptance.

The more I started thinking about this practice, the more I was able to be kind to myself. And believe it or not, the more I can be kind to myself, the kinder I can be to others.

I am humbled daily (whether I like it or not). But when I don’t fight it, I can learn. Maybe the lesson isn’t finished today, maybe not tomorrow, but the only thing I have to lose is a little bit of my ego. I realize I say things I don’t mean. Geez, if I pre-planned and screened everything I said depending to whom I said it, I would never talk. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. At least not how I believe it to be anyway. I’m going to forget someone's name. I’m going to call someone the wrong name. I may say something that sounds a particular way to someone that ends up offending them, to which I had no intention of offending.

That’s the beauty of humility; we can recognize we are not perfect, and we can lessen our expectations for others.

Without the rigidity of always needing to be right, to be doing the “right” thing, or even judging the righteousness of others, we become less critical in our actions, our thoughts and even our words. We become humbled recognizing we do not have all of the answers. And if we’re lucky, we may still find a few answers in our humility after all.

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