We are currently living in a world that emphasises the achievement of an individual. There is an unstoppable urge to proclaim one’s personal achievements and successes to the whole world. Humility has taken a backseat. It is as though life is only worth living if everyone around us know about our potential and successes. However, we realize it lasts only for about 5 mins before another person beats our success and the attention shifts to that person instead. All this only leads to a bitter aftertaste and possibly a lingering depression. And we are forced to look for another success. Is it really necessary to showcase our so-called greatness every instant?
What great men say about humility
In our religion, humility is a valued virtue. To get to know our true self one has to let go of ego. Mahatma Gandhi classifies humility as an essential virtue in a person for other virtues to emerge. Humility is not just good manners, for if a person acts humble but with a bitter heart, then it is not humility. Swami Vivekananda explains that humility does not mean “crawling on all fours and calling oneself a sinner.” Rather, each human feeling oneness with everything in the universe, without any bias, is the mark of humility. To Dr. S Radhakrishnan, humility is the non-judgmental state of mind when we are best able to learn, contemplate and understand everything.
Quotes on humility
The primary trait of a humble person is treating everyone with respect. We should not show pride, conceit or arrogance towards anyone. Also, whenever we get acclaim or recognition, we must always credit it to those who helped us and also thank the Lord for enabling it in us. Humility and respect always go together. While humility involves lowering ourselves in front of others, respect means elevating the person in front of us. In our tradition, humility and being respectful are the marks of an educated and a cultured person.
The sloka ‘vidhyaa dadaati vinayam’ explains how education would improve our humility which in turn bestows character, wealth, charitable behaviour and ultimately bliss. There is another saying in Sanskrit, ‘knowledge without modesty is futile (विद्या विनयेन शोभते)’ which explains the same thing.In the Bhagavadgita, the absence of self-importance (na atimanita) is a divine quality to achieve devotion and surrender (verse 16.3). Thiruvalluvar in his Thirukkural, highlights this – (121) ‘adakkam amararul uykkum’ (The practitioner of humility will achieve heaven, while arrogance will lead to hell)
This is why all our ancestors practiced humility throughout their lives. All poets will start their works offering prayers to their predecessors and how they derived their knowledge from the advices of their preceptors. Adi Shankara, in his SoundaryaLahiri mentions that he is lowly and far away from Goddess Parvati, and yet seeks her grace. In his Subramanya Bhujangam, he states in complete humility that he knows neither poetry nor prose, knows no great words or their meaning, but what poured forth was the result of the divine in him. Kalidasa started his work Raghuvamsa stating that the clan of Raghu is so huge and his knowledge so small that he is like a dwarf who is desirous of reaching a fruit hanging from a tall tree.
Even Gods have been the epitome of humility. In Sundarakanda of Ramayana, Lord Hanuman was questioned by Sita about how Lord Rama can rescue her from the mighty and powerful Ravana. He replied saying that since he was the lowliest warrior in the Vanara army, he was sent as a messenger to Lanka. If as a lowly messenger, he can cross the ocean and reach Sita, she can imagine the full power of Vanara Sena. Thus the greatest and most powerful warrior all time, Lord Hanuman shrunk his capabilities to display his humility.
Humility in the modern world
Compared to the ability and achievements of our ancestors, we can hardly claim any true credit for anything that we achieve in this life. While for them humility could be understating their values, for us it is the true reflection of our selves indeed. (Un)Surprisingly humility is also getting recognised by the Western world as one of the leadership traits. For example, Jim Collins and his colleagues created a leadership concept called ‘Level 5’ leadership. This type of leader has to possess several leadership traits of which developing humility is considered the first and foremost. Their research indicates that humility is multi-dimensional and includes self-understanding and awareness, openness, and perspective taking.
Quote by Michael Crichton
Popular author Michael Crichton in this best-selling book, Jurassic park quotes this about being humble..
“ … Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. .. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual Guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. … And once you have attained it, it is your power. .. It is literally the result of your discipline. … The discipline of the getting the power changes you so that you won’t abuse it.
But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step… There is no discipline… no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature…..the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits.”
The moment we understand that there is a divine force that is the reason for your success (or failure), we will become more humble. We will treat others with more respect. We will be more aware of who we are. Can we try and stay humble? Can we teach our kids the power of humility?