Humility: Sharing the Stage of Life

Humility is not in vogue.

It’s not chic. It’s not on fleak. Everyone wants to talk about pride, but no one wants to talk about humility. This is nothing new.

I think part of this is because many have a flawed definition of humility. So let’s start there first.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

C.S. Lewis

This definition is absolutely brilliant, because it gets to the heart of the problem that plagues every one of us in one way or another—the problem of pride.

Yes, I called pride a problem.

Now to be clear, pride in your work is not the problem. We should work hard and be pleased when our diligence pays off. Nor is pride in another person the problem. We should delight in those we love and celebrate their success and growth.

Pride is a problem when our view of self eclipses our view of others or of our Maker.

This is what Lewis was getting at.

It is not self-confidence that leads us to forget our place in the world, but self-obsession. This obsession is nothing short of toxic. (Now there’s a vogue word!) It is toxic because it leads to a number of failures that we can all identify in our lives in one way or another.

We fail to meet needs around us. We fail to build meaningful relationships. We fail to share our resources. We fail to build any kind of legacy that transcends our own name. We fail to point people upward.

In short, we fail to invest in anything that doesn’t directly revolve around us.

“Well,” you say, “isn’t this a literary blog?”

“What does humility have to do with writing?”

I’m glad you asked.

Every story has characters. And every character has objectives. Every character has desires. And every character has needs. Sometimes the desires and needs of different characters come into conflict. Some characters have noble desires, some have selfish desires. And some have both.

We are all this last type of character.

The beauty of a story, though, never comes from just one character. Rather, it arises from the harmony, and often disharmony, of many characters alternately persisting, resisting, submitting, and committing to their own interests or the interests of one another. Whether they like it or not, they do not operate in a vacuum. One character may take center stage more often than the others, but there would be no meaningful story if he or she never acknowledged the presence of his counterparts.

We miss out when we are too preoccupied with ourselves to see the grandeur of the bigger picture.

I am prone to think of my life as a narrative in which I am the main character. Now that is pride, isn’t it? Sure, we can all feel like protagonists at times, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—unless we interpret the rest of reality in terms of ourselves. We assess people’s worth by what they can give us, as “the protagonist.” We view others as minor characters in the backdrop of our all-important lives, and so we construct a universe in which everything and everyone is eternally orbiting around us… except it’s not eternal, because each of us will one day die. We tend to think of our death as “the end of the story.”

If the last several years have taught me nothing else, it is that life is not about me. It is not about any one person on this earth. And our desperate attempts to build a world that revolves around us are sad signs of misunderstood purpose. There is One around Whom everything does, in fact, revolve—but none of us are Him. So rather than trying to steal the show and play the lead role, we would do well to remember that we are all part of a much bigger narrative that has been unfolding long before we came on the scene, and will continue unfolding after we exit the stage.

We would do well to share the stage of life.

Sometimes that means spending time helping another person become their best, instead of always trying to look your best. Sometimes that means giving up an opportunity for self-advancement in order to serve someone else. Sometimes that means giving credit to someone else, rather than basking in the affirmation.

What does practical humility look like for you?

3 Comments on “Humility: Sharing the Stage of Life

  1. Well-timed post. Definitely complements the Christmas season well.

    You are absolutely right about humility not being en vogue. People see it as a weakness others get to abuse. What many don’t realize is that it’s not the person that’s humble that’s in the wrong, but those who choose to abuse it. Turning the other cheek on a regular basis can be difficult.

    I like it how you compared it to a book, a story, a protagonist. Makes sense.

    I’m definitely working on exuding more humility. That’s a wonderful legacy my mother left behind.

    • I’m glad it resonated with you! And that is wonderful that your mother left such a legacy– humility is often best understood by seeing an example of it. Because the concept is so easy to misunderstand, a person who models it is often the most powerful teaching method.

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