We often think of humility within the confines of the rule “never think that you are better than anyone else.” There are people who constantly deflect praise and downplay achievements out of the desire to be seen as humble or at least to avoid appearing arrogant. Now, it is easy to point to the danger of arrogance in communication (we all know someone who could use a little humility in their speech), but it is rare to hear the warnings of doing the opposite, downplaying our role in something or our achievements.
While humility may in part be about “never think you are better than” it is also about “never think that you are worse than” as well. When I meet someone who approaches life with humility, I am always struck by how open and honest they are with what they can do and what they can’t do. It never sounds like bragging, nor does it ever sound apologetic. Most importantly, rather than feeling like they are measuring themselves against me, I often feel freer to be myself. I tend to be more open, trusting and honest with myself.
As a society, we often build up this ideal of what it means to be human. We are supposed to be awesome without ever thinking that we are awesome, we are supposed to be better than without needing to show that we are better than.
Basically, we want the cake without the calories. If we are trying to gauge our self-worth by comparing ourselves to others, then we are not coming from a place of wholeness. At its best humility is about acceptance of who we are (good and bad) and not about trying to protect or control how others think of us.
One good test of this is checking to see how often you say “you’re welcome” when thanked. If you are anything like me, you probably deflect the initial compliment for concern that it might be perceived as presumptuous (which is crazy thinking). As an experiment, try to pay attention to how you take in compliments. Be mindful of trying to deflect or detract from your positive qualities.
After all, the goal in communication is to be more comfortable in our own skin and to trust ourselves more fully in any situation. In other words, to speak from a place of humility.