It’s Not Hard To Be Humble

One of the most important aspects of life is the ability of dealing with external authorities. And, similarly, one of the most worrisome tendencies of contemporary life is the growing lack of interest of people in having authorities that are outside of themselves. It is not as if external authorities are necessarily perfect, but their value is that they provide us with an external check on our behavior that holds us accountable and gives us a perspective outside of ourselves. Yet our general tendency to wish to avoid this sort of insight makes us vulnerable to a great deal of self-deception because we cut ourselves off from that which looks at things from a different angle than we do.

The value of other perspectives does not depend on those perspectives being right in any way. There are a great many perspectives that are absolutely wrong, but which are still worth knowing about and respecting. If someone completely misinterprets our behavior, as happens from time to time, this experience ought to be a salutary reminder to us that we in turn may misinterpret the behavior of others. I think most of us, if we are being sincere, will admit that there have been times in our lives where we have misjudged the behavior and mindset of others. I know I have, personally. And the reminder that we are in fact fallible is a very worthwhile reminder to have. Even where other people do not respect our opinion, the fact that we can recognize fallibility as a characteristic of human judgments and prejudgments, including our own, gives us an advantage that others do not have. This advantage, as it happens, is one of humility.

Why is it a benefit to be humble? The reason, most simply, is that we have much to be humble about. Recognizing how easily and how frequently we go wrong keeps us from developing the arrogance that makes it hard to recover or grow from mistakes. To the extent that we recognize that our reasoning and knowledge are often faulty, we can avoid cultivating the self-importance that encourages us to engage in confirmation bias and in the rejection of what is useful about the perspectives of others. Even where others misjudge us, or where we may misjudge others, the reality of that perspective lets us (and others) know that something is wrong with matters of presentation and understanding and explanation, and this allows for the possibility that a mistaken view can be corrected by further evidence.

If we believe that we are never wrong, we will not take the steps of gaining insight and further information that will make us right. Quite in contrast to the popular nostrums of our age, it is not what is within us that gives us wisdom, but that which is outside of us. Our age encourages people to focus on what our heart says–our hearts are deceitful and easily deceived. It encourages us to neglect the importance of thinking with an eye towards the future or an understanding of history, but it is thinking about things in the long-term and with an eye towards history that allow us to differentiate between that which is a short-term good and that which will be vindicated by the verdict of future generations, if we expect to have any. It is not our inflated self-regard that makes us brave and heroic, but rather our willingness to submit ourselves to the cross-examination of a candid and critical world and to the verdict of God and history. In humility there is reflected glory, but in arrogance there will be no glory at all, only shame.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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