The Virtue of Humility


The Hubris of Achilles

The ancient Greeks often wrote about the importance of humility. A reoccurring theme throughout their literature was the shameful, often fatal effects of hubris-excessive, arrogant pride. For the Greeks, hubris meant thinking you were wise when you were not. One story that drives home the importance of humility is Homer's The Iliad.

Throughout The Iliad, we find young Achilles, the invincible Greek soldier, sitting in his tent pouting because King Agamemnon took his slave woman. All the while, Achilles countrymen are dying at the hands of the Trojans. Even when Agamemnon apologizes and gives back the woman in hopes that Achilles will start fighting, Achilles still acts like a little bitch and refuses to do so. In fact, he starts to pack up to head back to Greece. He demonstrates a complete lack of humility. While his comrades perish, he seeks to save his own skin because of an inflated sense of self-importance and his arrogant pride.

This pride then results in the great Trojan, Hector, killing Achilles friend. It is only then, after it has become too late, that Achilles decides to fight. Even so, it isn't even for his country; he is motivated by the pull of revenge. After Achilles kills Hector in battle, in an act of complete dishonor, Achilles ties up Hector's body to a chariot and drags it around the walls of Troy for nine days.

While many today think of Achilles as a hero, to the ancient Greeks he embodied the shameful consequence of hubris. While they admired his legendary fighting ability, the real lesson they took from his story was the need to be humble.

What is humility?

The definition of humility need not include timidity or becoming a wallflower. Instead, humility simply requires a man to think of his abilities and his actions as no greater, and no lesser, than they really are. Real humility then mandates that a man knows and is completely honest with himself. He honestly assesses what are, and to what magnitude he possess talents and gifts, struggles and weaknesses.

Humility is the absence of pride. We are taught to think pride is a good thing. But pride functions only when comparing others to yourself. Don't base your self-worth on how you stack up to others. Instead, focus on yourself and how you can improve. C.S. Lewis said the following about pride:

The point is that each person's pride is in competition with everyone else's pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive-is competitive by its very nature-while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.

What humility is not

In their quest to be humble, people often confuse humility with false modesty. I think we've all been guilty of this at one time or another. When we are recognized for a great accomplishment, we act as though what we did really wasn't that important or that big of a deal. For example, we spend many hours meticulously putting together an excellent presentation for work, and when people praise us we say, Oh, it was just something I threw together. We have a tendency to devalue what we've done under the pretense of humility. In fact, people often take on the guise of false humility for the sake of receiving more praise and adulation from others. You want people to think Wow, he said he just threw that together! Imagine what he could do if he had spent hours on it. When you do something well, don't toot your own horn excessively, but truthfully acknowledge what you accomplished.

How to practice humility

Give credit where credit is due. The prideful will take as much credit for a success as they possibly can. The humble seeks to shine the light on all the other people and strokes of luck that came together to make that success happen. No one rises on the strength of his bootstraps alone. Innate talent, a supportive family member, friend, teacher or coach, and lucky breaks always contribute somewhere down the line.

Don't name/experience drop. Have you ever been in a conversation with a man who felt it necessary to interject how he's been to Europe twice, got a 4.0 in college, dines frequently at pricey restaurants, or knows a famous author, at points in the conversation where such tidbits of information didn't belong? These people are completely annoying and are basically trying let others know how great they are. Their exaggerated sense of self-importance leads them to demand the lion's share of attention. These men are clearly insecure; they do not think they can win the interest of others without frontloading all of their attention grabbers. A humble man can hold back on sharing his strengths. He understands that others have equally important and interesting stories to share, and his turn will come.

Do what's expected, but don't make a big deal about it. My grandparent's generation understood the idea of fulfilling your duty. In his book, The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw made this observation:

The World War II generation did what was expected of them. But they never talked about it. It was part of the Code. There's no more telling metaphor than a guy in a football game who does what's expected of him makes an open-field tackle then gets up and dances around. When Jerry Kramer threw the block that won the Ice Bowl in 67, he just got up and walked off the field.

Why don't we take a lesson from our grandfathers? Do something because you're supposed to do it, have a little humility, and shut the hell up about it.

Perform service and charity anonymously. Prideful men want everyone to know when they do a charitable act. They drop the amount of money they donated to a cause into conversation, they post pictures of their service to Facebook, and they never miss a chance to remind someone they served of their generosity towards them. They are obviously doing service for the wrong reason: to stoke their ego and gain acclamation. Real charity is not self-seeking and is done solely for the benefit of others. Next time you do something nice, try keeping it completely to yourself. It's a tough test of your manly humility.

Stop one-upping people. Few things are more annoying than a man who must constantly one-up others during conversation. You say, I once went to a Rolling Stones concert. He says, I once had backstage passes to a Rolling Stones concert. Whatever someone says, the one-upper must do him one better. Resist the urge to take part in these pissing contests. You usually end up with pee on your shoe anyway. If you notice someone who wants to engage in this show of one-upmanship, be the better man and let him have his moment of glory. People may talk about that guy's exciting story the next day, but theyll remember how much of a gentleman you are years later. Or if that doesn't work, become an astronaut and walk on the moon:

My beloved brethren, the story of Job prefigures that of Christ. Thus we understand it, and we can see the truth of this by detailed comparison.

Job was called a righteous man by God; and God is righteousness itself, the fountain of righteousness from which the blessed drink. Of him it was said: The sun of righteousness shall rise for you.
Job was called truthful; and the Lord is truly Truth itself, for as he says in the Gospel: I am the way and the truth.
Job was rich; and what could be richer than the Lord? For all the rich are his slaves, his is the whole world and all that exists, as David said in the Psalms: The Lord's is the earth and its fulness, the world and all who live in it.
The devil tempted Job three times; and three times, according to the Gospel, he tried to tempt the Lord.
Everything that Job had, he lost; and for love of us the Lord forgot all his heavenly blessings and made himself poor, that we might be rich.
The devil, raging, destroyed Job's sons; and the Lord's sons, the prophets, were killed by the people of the Pharisees in their madness.
Job was disfigured with boils; and the Lord, taking on human flesh, was fouled with the sins of all mankind.
Job's own wife urged him to sin; and the synagogue, the bride of God, tried to compel the Lord to follow the corrupt Behaviour of the elders.
Job's friends, it is said, insulted him; and the Lord was insulted by his own priests, his own worshippers.
Job sits on a dunghill full of worms; and the Lord lived in a real dunghill, that is, this world, surrounded by men seething with every vice and every crime: true worms.
Job received back his health and his riches; and the Lord, rising, did not only regain health but granted immortality to those who believed in him and took back dominion over the whole of nature. For as he himself bears witness: All things have been given to me by my Father.
Job begot new sons to replace the ones who had died; the Lord, to replace the prophets, begot his holy sons, the Apostles.
Job went to his rest in blessedness and peace; but the Lord remains blessed in all eternity: before time, and from the beginning of time, and to the end of all ages.

LITANY OF HUMILITY


O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed...

Deliver me, Jesus (and for each below).

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I...

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it (for each below).

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
Others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. My beloved brethren, the story of Job prefigures that of Christ. Thus we understand it, and we can see the truth of this by detailed comparison.

Job was called a righteous man by God; and God is righteousness itself, the fountain of righteousness from which the blessed drink. Of him it was said: The sun of righteousness shall rise for you.
Job was called truthful; and the Lord is truly Truth itself, for as he says in the Gospel: I am the way and the truth.
Job was rich; and what could be richer than the Lord? For all the rich are his slaves, his is the whole world and all that exists, as David said in the Psalms: The Lord's is the earth and its fulness, the world and all who live in it.
The devil tempted Job three times; and three times, according to the Gospel, he tried to tempt the Lord.
Everything that Job had, he lost; and for love of us the Lord forgot all his heavenly blessings and made himself poor, that we might be rich.
The devil, raging, destroyed Job's sons; and the Lord's sons, the prophets, were killed by the people of the Pharisees in their madness.
Job was disfigured with boils; and the Lord, taking on human flesh, was fouled with the sins of all mankind.
Job's own wife urged him to sin; and the synagogue, the bride of God, tried to compel the Lord to follow the corrupt Behaviour of the elders.
Job's friends, it is said, insulted him; and the Lord was insulted by his own priests, his own worshippers.
Job sits on a dunghill full of worms; and the Lord lived in a real dunghill, that is, this world, surrounded by men seething with every vice and every crime: true worms.
Job received back his health and his riches; and the Lord, rising, did not only regain health but granted immortality to those who believed in him and took back dominion over the whole of nature. For as he himself bears witness: All things have been given to me by my Father.
Job begot new sons to replace the ones who had died; the Lord, to replace the prophets, begot his holy sons, the Apostles.
Job went to his rest in blessedness and peace; but the Lord remains blessed in all eternity: before time, and from the beginning of time, and to the end of all ages.


O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed...

Deliver me, Jesus (and for each below).

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I...

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it (for each below).

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
Others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should

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