04 May


I was raised by my paternal grandparents, who accepted responsibility for my care when I was an infant and they were both 50-ish. As a result, I spent a great deal of time with people who had experienced much in life and who shared their wisdom with me. One of my grandfather’s best pieces of advice was, “If you’re good, you don’t have to tell anyone.” The idea was that I should spend my time and energy on being the best version of myself, rather than trying to sell other people on what I wanted them to believe about me.

Early in my first career, as a Banker, I was a credit analyst in the commercial loan department. I recall going out for drinks after work with a friend, another credit analyst. We were conversing with other patrons of the pub and I was asked by someone what I did for work. I explained I was a credit analyst and it was my job to put together the information, financial and otherwise, that would go into a packet for the loan committee to review. My friend, when asked the same question, spent a good five minutes describing in the most flourishing of terms, how she analyzes the structure and financial solvency of a variety of companies, working closely with the President and chief financial officers of said companies, determining the best use of the company’s capital and the appropriate financial instruments which will enable them to achieve their objectives. As I continued listening to her verbose response, I was awestruck by how fascinating and important her job sounded, until I remembered that it was the same job that I had.  I was discomfited by her need to impress these strangers with her embellished description of her importance.

I experience a similar reaction to salespeople or any person who is working hard to convince me of something. The harder they try, the louder they get, the more certain they are of their rightness, the more armor I cloak myself in as protection against whatever falsehoods they are disbursing. So perhaps that is the implicit flipside of my grandfather’s statement. He said, “If you’re good, you don’t have to tell anyone.” By extension I seem to have interpreted that statement to include this one: “If you’re telling me how good you are, you must not be.”

This reminds me of the Shakespeare line from Hamlet in which the Queen states, “Thou doth protest too much, methinks.” Keeping in mind that the word, “protest,” in Shakespeare’s day did not mean to deny or to oppose, but rather to vow, or make affirmative statements. In Hamlet’s context, it meant that the statements the Queen was referring to were too clever, too insistent, and too elaborate to be true. And so it goes with individuals who spend a great deal of time telling others how good, honest, hardworking, loyal, talented etc. they are. Why would anyone, who is truly these things, need to tell others that they are? Why not just BE who you are? In the end, the world will judge you on your actions, not your words.

As a child, I thought that my grandfather was simply telling me not to brag.  But he was also teaching me not to seek the approval and admiration of others. He was teaching me the value of humility. Humility is the state of not having to prove your worth or value to others. It is awareness and acceptance of both your strengths and your weaknesses. In so doing, you remain teachable because you acknowledge that you don’t know everything already. You are open to asking for help, to create a healthy interdependence with others. Humble people find it easy to say, “I don’t know. Enlighten me.” Humble people know that life is not a zero-sum game in which the only way to win is if other people lose. Humility breeds self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth and holds all others in esteem, respect and worth.

So what do you think? How do you react when someone is loudly boastful? Do you trust what they are saying? Here are some quotes to help you ponder further:

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.” 
― Albert Einstein

“Stay hungry, stay young, stay foolish, stay curious, and above all, stay humble because just when you think you got all the answers, is the moment when some bitter twist of fate in the universe will remind you that you very much don’t.” 
― Tom Hiddleston

“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.” 
― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.” 
― Harper Lee

“The humble listen to their brothers and sisters because they assume they have something to learn. They are open to correction, and they become wiser through it.” 
― Thomas Dubay

True humility is expressed in deeds, not words. The humble are those who truly walk the same ground as everyone else – not necessarily with grovelling, hunched backs, but certainly not lording it over others, either.

-Julian Baggini

Blaire Sharpe is the Author of  “Not Really Gone.” 

5 Responses to Lessons in Humility

  1. Jennifer

    May 4, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    I love this post. So much within it is true in almost any situation a person can find themselves. All too often, a person feels the need to compete with others, to “one up” those around them. I watch people and wonder why everything has to be a competition. Too many times I’ve seen where people aren’t comfortable within their own skins and have to ‘prove’, not only to those around them, but to themselves that they are better. It’s only when we can open our eyes and can truly see people can we start to understand them.

    A fantastic post, Blaire. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Julia

    May 9, 2016 at 8:09 am

    I love this and totally agree! Often, I am struck by the Emperor Has No Clothes phenomenon.

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