stain glass representation of jesus washing disciples feet

Unlock Your Leadership Trait-Humility/Spiritual Meditations

Modern science endorses the virtues underscored by scripture as beneficial; spiritually, emotionally and financially.

The Bible suggests we develop in ourselves the characteristics of gratitude, patience, humility and others. It tells us that these are traits through which we express love for our fellow man and for ourselves. Modern psychology backs this up with more specific details on how and why our lives are improved by cultivating these attributes, thus showing that the inspired biblical texts written thousands of years ago are relevant today.

Jesus’ most notable lessons in humility and serving others were his acts and words when he washed the disciples’ feet before he was arrested. “So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

So, I ask myself “Am I that humble?” Our self-evaluation is rarely what the world sees, so how would I know? And then I wonder if it is possible for people who are striving for excellence, or have reached excellence, to be humble. What do you think? Here is what the experts say.

What Humility Isn’t

Karl Albrecht Ph.D. in his Jan 2015 article in Psychology Today tells us what humility isn’t.

  • It’s not letting others “push you around.”
  • It’s not being a doormat, a sucker, or letting people “walk all over you.”
  • It’s not constantly sacrificing your interests to those of others (and then feeling like a victim or a martyr).
  • It’s not avoiding conflict or confrontation – not of your making, anyway – for the sake of “being nice.”
  • It’s not about hiding your feelings or suppressing your views to avoid alienating others.

What Humility Is

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”- C. S. Lewis

Psychologically speaking, it is defined as a psycho-social orientation characterized by 1) a sense of emotional autonomy, and 2) freedom from the control by the “competitive reflex.” Sounds healthy.

It is about emotional neutrality. It involves an experience of growth in which you no longer need to put yourself above others, but you don’t put yourself below them, either. Everyone is your peer – from the most “important” person to the least. You’re just as valuable as every other human being on the planet, no more and no less. It’s about behaving and reacting from purposefulness, not emotions. You learn to simply disconnect or de-program the “competitive reflex” because it is not productive.

Therefore, humility is both a matter of self-restraint and a matter of self-esteem. The greater your sense of self-worth, the easier it is to appreciate others, to praise them, and to encourage them.  It is also easier to be understanding and overlook minor infractions.

Competitive Reflex Self Diagnostic Test Questions

So how do we tell if we are humble? How often do we let our competitive reflex take over? Dr. Albrecht proposes some questions you can ask yourself to determine your level of humility.

  • Do you offer unsolicited advice to others about how to live their lives better?
  • Do you “damn with faint praise” when somebody shares their new idea or new discovery about life?
  • If someone tells a joke, do you feel compelled to top it with a better one? Or, do you hold back on laughing, so the joke falls flat?
  • Do you always have a better story, a better example, a better suggestion, or a better solution?
  • Do you feel compelled to demonstrate how smart you are, or how much you know?
  • Are you a back-seat driver?
  • Do you like to tell people how to raise their kids better?
  • Do you lecture or preach to others?
  • When someone says something that’s mistaken or misinformed, how do you react?
  • If you have a different opinion, do you precipitate a win-lose debate, or do you show respect for the other person’s view as you’re sharing your own?
  • Are you angry when receiving criticism from others?
  • Are you skeptical of others and convinced that you know better than everybody else what needs to be done?

How did you do? If not too well, here are some reasons to consider taking on a remodeling project to increase your humility.

Advantages of Humility

A recent set of studies show that humility is a consistent predictor of generosity. People who are humble tend to be more generous with both their time and their money and are, therefore, generally considered to be more valuable members of society. People see humble individuals as well-adjusted and kind. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative. 

Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership said Michael W. Austin Ph.D. in a Jun 2012 article in Psychology Today.

Empirical evidence seems to show that humility can advance one’s fortune in the world, as it is a distinguishing trait of CEO’s of successful organizations. Humble leaders are honest about both their strengths and limitations. They are confident without being conceited; open-minded without being obstinate; and supportive without being submissive.

As leaders, we often regard admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness. In truth, it’s an admirable act of grace, generosity and gumption.

Accepting that you did something wrong or that you don’t know everything, relinquishes ego for the sake of personal development and business growth. Asking for help not only displays a willingness to learn but empowers others to shine. Moreover, it builds trust. Acknowledging a slipup today prevents it from swelling into an insurmountable challenge tomorrow.

As the great Jim Collins said, “The X-factor of great leadership is not personality, it is humility.”

Can You Strive for Excellence and Still be Humble?

Is it wrong to try to win at bridge, or improve your tennis game, or work to get ahead in your workplace? Of course not – those are parts of a separate dimension of your life where your talents and abilities become evident. Humility is a matter of social intelligence and building relationships, which involve inviting people to move with and toward you, instead of away and against you.

The Apostle Paul was a great example of a leader with humility. He was unwavering in his efforts to spread Christ’s message, yet encouraged Christ’s followers to be as humble as he was.

Regarding his work he wrote:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil 3:13-14)

And about humility, he wrote:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (Phil 2:1-3)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Eph 4:2)

 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. (Rom 12:16)

Mark Leary Ph.D. (in a December 2019 article in Psychology Today) gives a modern day example of success with humility: A renowned actor may know that he is exceptionally skilled, have a highly successful career, receive many awards, and be adored by millions of fans but not believe that he should be treated special overall, as a person, because of his exceptional ability and accomplishments.

The phrase “as a person” is critical here. In certain areas of life, people who perform at a high level or who have exceptionally positive characteristics deserve special attention, respect, deference, rewards, and privileges — in the domain in which their accomplishments or characteristics are relevant. For example, the best athletes should be given more playing time than less skilled players, accomplished scientists may deserve higher grant funding, the best actors and authors are entitled to more recognition, and the best employees are entitled to higher salaries, better offices, or other perks.

In Leary’s study he found that “humble people didn’t downplay their accomplishments or characteristics; they simply didn’t think they should be treated special because of them.”

How to Increase Your Humility

If you find yourself expressing more “competitive reflexes” than you’d like, or if you are successful in one area of your life, and therefore believe you are an expert in everything, here are some observations made by Frank Sonnenberg that you may find helpful.

Success is temporary. Success is a journey, not a destination. When you become successful, don’t rest on your laurels. As soon as you take your eye off the ball, you risk losing your edge.

Stop feeding your ego. Don’t isolate yourself from reality by building relationships with people who stroke your ego. Surrounding yourself with “yes people” is just like talking to yourself.

Compete against yourself. When you compete against others, it’s easy to emphasize winning over self-improvement. However, when you compete against yourself, you both win.

Even experts have room to learn. Never stop growing. Know your limitations and admit when you don’t know something. It’ll help to keep you grounded.

Listen up. Discover what others have to offer and ask for their opinions before opening your mouth. It shows that you value their opinions as well as their insight.

No one’s perfect. Don’t let success go to your head. Be quick to apologize for your mistakes. You’ll never learn anything or impress anyone by making excuses and diverting blame. To err is human. To admit that you erred is humility.

Share your success. You may be successful, but there’s a good chance that others helped you along the way. Find creative ways to share the credit and pull people up the ladder of success along with you.

Remember your roots. Remember where you came from and what you’ve learned along the way. Help others by mentoring them.

Get off your high horse. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. You may be successful, but that doesn’t make you better than anyone else.

Bragging is ugly. There’s a difference between excitement and bragging. We know you’re thrilled about your new “toy,” but others may be cutting back on their basic needs — be sensitive.

Trust me. Money and success can’t buy a person’s trust or guarantee a good reputation. You earn these through your words and actions. There’s nothing more valuable in life than integrity.

Conclusion

A humble person is not one who allows themselves to be pushed around. He or she is one who may distinguish, or strive to distinguish, themselves in a particular area based on their skills and talents.   However, they recognize that their exceptionality does not extend beyond their area of expertise.

To the extent we become humbler, we improve our relationships with others and advance our goals.

As John Wooden said, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. ”So, what did I decide? Am I humble? I confess, I still have a little remodeling to do.

Relevant Scripture

Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. (Prov 18:12)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)

For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. (Psalm 149:4)

Our genetics select the needy. You are born to help.

Why do You Think Low-Income Families Deserve Your Help? | Spiritual Meditations

Genetics Select the Needy

You and I not only have different physical attributes, but we also have different mental attributes.  You may be a risk-taker who is great with numbers and, therefore, make a great financier. Or you may have mountains of compassion and, therefore, make a great nurse.  I may have an inquisitive mind and, therefore, should be doing research.

On the other hand, you may have an inborn negative attitude and find it difficult to be motivated by anything.  And I may have trouble noticing detail and tracking so written directions are a problem.

There are hundreds of mental and personality traits that we are born with.  And their combination make individuals who they are.  Upbringing can modify these traits for better or for worse.   And we can learn to hide, to some extent, the traits that we believe hinder us.  That is, unless we don’t have the introspective personality trait and the ability to act (a skill that requires imagination and empathy).

Child development psychologists tell us that deep and lasting shaping of neural pathways happens in the first hours, days, months, and years of life. Basic dispositions are formed that can last a lifetime. Whether you are held, spoken to, fed, made to feel safe and cared for — you have no choice in any of it, but it more or less forms your emotional skeleton. It determines how sensitive you are to threat, how open you are to new experience, your capacity to exercise empathy.

Children aren’t responsible for how they spend their formative years and the permanent imprint it makes upon them. But they’re stuck with it…..

So, then, here you are. You turn 18. You are no longer a child; you are an adult, a moral agent, responsible for who you are and what you do.

By that time, your inheritance is enormous. You’ve not only been granted a genetic makeup, an ethnicity and appearance, by accidents of nature and parentage. You’ve also had your latent genetic traits “activated” in a very specific way through a specific upbringing, in a specific environment, with a specific set of experiences.

Your basic mental and emotional wiring is in place; you have certain instincts, predilections, fears, and cravings. You have a certain amount of money, certain social connections and opportunities, a certain family lineage. You’ve had a certain amount and quality of education. You’re a certain kind of person.  The radical moral implications of luck in human life: Acknowledging the role of luck is the secular equivalent of religious awakening. By David Roberts)

So I think it is fair to say that genetics select the needy.  At least, within an otherwise prosperous society.  Do we have a moral obligation to share our talents, our skills, the fruits of our inherited personality traits with those of individuals who inherited traits that aren’t as conducive to making money?

We choose out mates, not only because of common interests, but also become they have complimentary personality traits.  “You complete me”.  They may be good at something that we are not and vice versa.  Shall we be any less cooperative with other people in society?  (Try to keep your mind out of the gutter on this one.)

Corporate and Government Treatment of Low Income Individuals

I don’t mean to totally downplay nurturing but it is obvious that the individuals that are living on the streets or changing low-paying jobs on a regular bases, have not had nurturing enough to overcome their inherited traits.  And some corporations, thinking only of the bottom line, either don’t realize or don’t care how their actions effect low income families.

It has never been easy to be poor in America, but decisions made in company boardrooms about seemingly modest financial matters — about fees, fines, interest rates, minimum balances — make life far harder than it has to be for low-income families. This week, Bank of America announced its free, no-minimum-balance checking account, popular with many low-income customers, will require a $1,500 minimum daily balance or $250 in direct monthly deposit (totaling $3,000 per year). If customers fall below that threshold, they will be forced to pay a monthly fee.    (Why it Cost so much to be Poor in America – Karen Weese)

Government funding for social programs is always threatened by the chopping block.  Medicaid is making it harder for low-income and disabled individuals to get funding for basic needs.  We’re required to pay taxes to the government anyway, so why not petition for a more compassionate distribution of funds.

You were Born to be Helpful

You might argue “I didn’t get the generous or charitable trait”.  OK, that may be true, so hopefully you live with people who did.  Some psychologists would say there is one other trait you may not have gotten.  See if you agree.  The Link between humility and helpfulness.

But most of us are born with an instinct to help others.  “Some biologists believe that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.” The theory is that is was developed during prehistoric society where cooperation was needed for survival.  There have been many studies regarding this. Once such study was reported in the New York Times by Nicholas Wade.

So there is the logical reason that (for everyone who can) there is a moral obligation to help those in need.  Fortunately, it also comes naturally to most.

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. (John Wesley)

Writings related to this article that are worth meditating on are found here under Helping the Needy and Being Humble