Monday, 16 August 2010

Whatever happened to humility?

I've been listening to a number of conversations recently, where people have talked about how they wish everyone would get along together. They've mentioned initiatives, workshops, corporate values, charity sponsorship - just like in workplaces, churches, organisations, even homes up and down the country. We're all seeking for better relationships, and wishing that people would just be nicer to one another... but are left wondering why everyone else has to make it so difficult?

A lot of the approaches people take are about 'positive reinforcement' - encouraging the behaviours we want to see more of, and rewarding them accordingly. It's not wrong, and it can have some really good results, but I can't help but think we're missing a trick. Perhaps there isn't a need for fancy reward structures, maybe we don't have to ensure that everyone who possibly contributed is thanked from the front. Instead, how about we all take a turn at showing a little humility?

It's a word we don't hear very often at all, and it's got some quite negative connotations - around people having to 'bow and scrape', 'yes m'lady', 'no, please don't care about my feelings, it's all about you' - in other words, about being a martyr. But that isn't a fair description of the true meaning, which is 'a lack of vanity or self-importance'. In other words, letting go of the ego. It gets even easier to understand when we check out its opposites - arrogance, assertiveness, egoism, pretentiousness and pride. None of us would like to be thought of as arrogant, proud or pretentious, but that's what a lack of humility is all about. When we push to have things all our own way, when we insist that only we know what is right and shove all obstacles - including people - out of our way, when we give that look to someone in a meeting that says 'I told you so', when we gossip about others and blame them behind their back for problems in the office - all of these are typical examples of how we even unwittingly put others down just so we can feel better about ourselves. And our actions lead to a spiralling of further actions - so the person who was made to feel bad goes on to make someone else's life a misery, and so on and so forth. Before we know it, trust is lost, everyone's trying to protect themselves and gain what little glory they can, and we all feel trampled on as a result.

When the damage we cause is so obvious, why do we keep on doing it? It's not pleasant to be around, it doesn't fulfil our innate need to be in close, encouraging relationships with other humans, and we all finish the day feeling worse off for it. But equally, nothing is going to change unless we each make a choice to be different. We don't need another initiative, it's not time for 'National Humility Day', it's just about making one fresh decision at a time, about standing up for a different way of working, even if it feels a little embarrassing at first. So what if people laugh - is that really a reason not to do it?

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