Arrogance and Humility

I came to a realization this weekend. My humility? I lost it somewhere in the last year or so. Which is deeply upsetting, because I worked long and hard to become even somewhat humble. One might go so far as to say I was proud of having attained humility (and, as much as that seems an oxymoron, I don’t think it is).

Humility is one of the virtues that almost all religious traditions extol. That’s because it is, to some degree, a prerequisite for understanding our place in a universe which contains a God.

One part of a relationship to Divinity is understanding that next to Divinity, we have no significance, no value, no worth. Yet, despite that, we need to understand that the Divine does value us, and in most religious traditions, even loves us. We who are unworthy based on our own actions, based on any actions of which we are capable, and made worthy because we are loved (by being human and Divine).

Spiritual teaching tends to prize humility for another reason. Spiritual learning is often about self-transformation. If we are too arrogant (lacking in humility) we are unlikely to be willing to look at ourselves honestly and see  the need for change.

Finally, humility is important because it impacts the way we regard and treat others. When I come from a place of humility, I cannot judge another, because I know that I cannot do better. I am more generous in my opinions, choosing to understand the slights I may sense from others as unintentional. And I am much more careful in how I speak of others, being very careful not to criticize others behind their backs, or to tolerate in myself faults I condemn in others.

This is not to say that when I am humble I am perfect. I’m not. I’m nicer, more understanding, and a “better person,” but not perfect. I am less arrogant, which is important. I am slower to anger (or to become frustrated, because I’m assuming everyone is doing the best that they can).

There is a school of thought/behavior within Judaism called “Mussar.” Often it is translated as Ethics, but that isn’t quite right. It’s more about how one should behave, correcting one’s behavior to bring it closer and closer to the ideal. Closer to what we believe God desires of us and for us. It is in some ways very  similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and can be a powerful tool for good (it can also be a powerful tool to beat down the spirit of someone who only hears the “you’re not good enough” message without the “you can do better because you contain the Divine within you”). And so, it is time for me to go back to looking in upon myself at the end of the day and evaluating my behavior. I need to ask myself whether I have failed to act as I should, whether I have hurt others.

Humility is, in the end, understanding that I am one of six billion or so humans, not to mention countless other animals upon this planet. And that I must act as such.  Not as someone special, but as someone who is seeking the way, just like everybody else.

As with much in life, the first step is recognizing the need. But we are all judged based on our actions, not our resolutions, and so it is time for me to re-examine myself, and seek to be the person I can be, and the person I wish to be.

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One Response to “Arrogance and Humility”

  1. Humility: You’re doing it wrong « Rabbi David Kominsky Says:

    […] spiritualityTags: humility, humor, Judaism, mussar, religion After yesterday’s post on humility, I felt there might be a need for another look at the subject. Lest anyone think that humility […]


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