Thursday, December 11, 2014

Reaching for Humility

I was curious to see what quotes from great thinkers out in the world could be collected about humility.  Here are some of my favorites.

“If pain doesn't lead to humility, you have wasted your suffering.”
― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves.”
― Timothy Keller

There's a trust and commitment thing that has to allow yourself fail, allow yourself to be embarrassed, allow yourself to be vulnerable”
― Tom Verducci, The Yankee Years

“The disillusionment with our own abilities is, perhaps, one of the most important things that can ever happen to us.”
― Tim Hansel

“I want a man who knows something about himself. And is appalled. And has to forgive himself to get along.”
― C.P. Snow, The Masters

“Humility is the nearly impossible task of being more concerned with our own sins that we are with the sins of others.”
― Trevor Hammack

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”
-- Mahatma Gandhi

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, "He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”
― Epictetus

“A candid admission of a blunder is refreshing and not often heard in human affairs. It is the saint alone who is large-minded enough to think and speak in this way. This is part of his authenticity.”  
–Thomas Dubay

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
-Thomas Merton

“True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.”
-Ralph W. Sockman

“The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don't mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do.”
-John Ruskin

“Humility consists in not esteeming ourselves above other men, and in not seeking to be esteemed above them.”
― St. Francis de Sales

“A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection.”
― Thomas à Kempis, The Inner Life

“Judge yourself; if you do that you will not be judged by God, as St. Paul says. But it must be a real sense of your own sinfulness, not an artificial humility.”
-Johannes Tauler

'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”
-- Alice Walker

“When someone saves your life and gives you life, there's gratitude, humility; there's a time you've been so blessed you realize you've been given another chance at life that maybe you did or didn't deserve.”
-- Pat Summerall

“The proud man can learn humility, but he will be proud of it.”
-- Mignon McLaughlin

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
-- Saint Augustine

“The devil…the prowde spirite…cannot endure to be mocked.”
― Thomas More

“If there is one single reason why good people turn evil, it is because they fail to recognize God’s ownership over their kingdom, their vocation, their resources, their abilities, and above all their lives.”
― Erwin W. Lutzer, When You've Been Wronged: Moving From Bitterness to Forgiveness

“Relativism poses as humble by saying: “We are not smart enough to know what the truth is—or if there is any universal truth.” It sounds humble. But look carefully at what is happening. It’s like a servant saying: I am not smart enough to know which person here is my master—or if I even have a master. The result is that I don’t have a master and I can be my own master. That is in reality what happens to relativists: In claiming to be too lowly to know the truth, they exalt themselves as supreme arbiter of what they can think and do. This is not humility. This is the essence of pride.”
― John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

“For thousands of years, it had been nature--and its supposed creator--that had had a monopoly on awe. It had been the icecaps, the deserts, the volcanoes and the glaciers that had given us a sense of finitude and limitation and had elicited a feeling in which fear and respect coagulated into a strangely pleasing feeling of humility, a feeling which the philosophers of the eighteenth century had famously termed the sublime.
But then had come a transformation to which we were still the heirs.... Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime had ceased to be nature. We were now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe could most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We were now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves.”
― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

“The humble person is open to being corrected, whereas the arrogant is clearly closed to it. Proud people are supremely confident in their own opinions and insights. No one can admonish them successfully: not a peer, not a local superior, not even the pope himself. They know - and that is the end of the matter. Filled as they are with their own views, the arrogant lack the capacity to see another view.”
― Thomas Dubay

“If someone were to ask whether communications skills or meekness is most important to a marriage, I'd answer meekness, hands down. You can be a superb communicator but still never have the humility to ask, 'Is it I?' Communication skills are no substitute for Christlike attributes.”
― John Bytheway, When Times Are Tough: 5 Scriptures That Will Help You Get Through Almost Anything

“Humility is really important because it keeps you fresh and new.”
--Steven Tyler

“I'm a writer by profession and it's totally clear to me that since I started blogging, the amount I write has increased exponentially, my daily interactions with the views of others have never been so frequent, the diversity of voices I engage with is far higher than in the pre-Internet age—and all this has helped me become more modest as a thinker, more open to error, less fixated on what I do know, and more respectful of what I don't. If this is a deterioration in my brain, then more, please.”
--Andrew Sullivan

“The job is to ask questions-it always was-and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.”
--Arthur Miller

“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

“Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought.”
-- Simone Weil

“Having all the answers just means you've been asking boring questions.”
― Joey Comeau

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Wild Years

“If you desire to know or learn anything to your advantage, then take delight in being unknown and unregarded.”
― Thomas à Kempis, The Inner Life

“[T]o really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time, and to need help.”
― David Foster Wallace, The Best American Essays 2007

“You must know nothing before you can learn something, and be empty before you can be filled. Is not the emptiness of the bowl what makes it useful?”
― Lloyd Alexander, The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen

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

“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“How quickly self rises to the surface, and the instrument is ready to believe he is something more than an instrument! How sadly easy it is to make of the very service God entrusts us with a pedestal on which to display ourselves.
― Arthur W. Pink, Elijah

“Any honours that come our way are only stolen from him to whom alone they really belong, the Lord who sent us.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“To be humble is to recognize gratefully your dependence on the Lord—to understand that you have constant need for His support. Humility is an acknowledgment that your talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that you know where your true strength lies. You can be both humble and fearless. You can be both humble and courageous.
Jesus Christ is our greatest example of humility. During His mortal ministry, He always acknowledged that His strength came because of His dependence on His Father. He said: “I can of mine own self do nothing. … I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30).
The Lord will strengthen you as you humble yourself before Him. James taught: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:6, 10). “
--True to the Faith

“It becomes us in humility to make our devout acknowledgments to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for the inestimable civil and religious blessings with which we are favored.”
--James K. Polk

“In such a state, humility is the virtue of men, and their only defense; to walk humbly with God, never doubting, whatever befall, that His will is good, and that His law is right.”
--Paul Elmer More

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”
― Andrew Murray, Humility

“Humility is the gateway into the grace and the favor of God.”
--Harold Warner

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.”
― Doctrine and Covenants 1:25-28

“The highest glory of the creature is in being only a vessel, to receive and enjoy and show forth the glory of God. It can do this only as it is willing to be nothing in itself, that God may be all. Water always fills first the lowest places. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the speedier and the fuller will be the inflow of the diving glory.”
― Andrew Murray, Humility

“We are not worthy to unloose the latchets of Jesus' shoes, because, if we do, we begin to say to ourselves, "What great folks are we; we have been allowed to loose the latchets of the Lord's sandals." If we do not tell somebody else about it with many an exultation, we at least tell ourselves about it, and feel that we are something after all, and ought to be held in no small repute.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon, Humility and How to Get It

“We are aware that the order of God requires the exercise of humility, but not of servility of slaves; but a humility that can be associated with undoubted courage and unflinching integrity; at the same time there is no room for pride, self-sufficient pride, that rests solely upon its own capabilities, and refuses to look for the support and countenance of others.--MS 7:91 [MS is the Millenial Star]”
― John Andreas Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government

“Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.”
― Andrew Murray, Humility

“Humility is simply the disposition which prepares the soul for living on trust.”
― Andrew Murray, Humility

“We need to approach the Bible each day with a spirit of deep humility, recognizing that our understanding of spiritual truth is at best incomplete and to some extent inaccurate ... we should approach the Scriptures in humility and expect the Spirit to humble us even further as we continue being taught by Him from His Word.”
― Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey

“We feel that, for the honour of God (and also, though we do not say this, for the sake of our own reputation as spiritual Christians), it is necessary for us to claim that we are, so to speak, already in the signal-box, here and now enjoying the inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings. This comforting pretence becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take if for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.”
― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

“I had such a hard time giving all the glory to God when first accepting Him as Lord. Coming out of a theatre background where there were many applauds and accolades, I suffered from what I call "attention-itis" - the need for recognition. It took many years and much eating of crow before I became conscious of giving all praise to God for my accomplishments.”
― Sheryl Young, God, Am I Nobody?

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
― Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more; he overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it.
― Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Sermons Vol. 1-10

"Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath."
--John Roberts

“A great man is always willing to be little.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Confident and courageous leaders have no problems pointing out their own weaknesses and ignorance.”
― Thom S. Rainer

“A man who can own pearls does not bother about shells, and those who aspire to virtue do not trouble themselves over honors.”
― St. Francis de Sales

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."
C. S. Lewis

“Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”
― Madeleine L'Engle

“Humility is attentive patience.”
-- Simone Weil

“We must listen and learn, show humility and seek again to talk for and to people's ambitions and concerns.”
--Johann Lamont

“To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence….we encounter a world where…. a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.”
― Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings

“Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”
― David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue

“We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God’s feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God’s share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of ‘our own’ pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel, to be ‘our own’. A man starts a new job with a sense of vocation and, perhaps, for the first week still keeps the discharge of the vocation as his end, taking the pleasures and pains from God’s hand, as they came, as ‘accidents’. But in the second week he is beginning to ‘know the ropes’: by the third, he has quarried out of the total job his own plan for himself within that job, and when he can pursue this he feels that he is getting no more than his rights, and when he cannot, that he is being interfered.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self.
To mind one's own business.
Not to want to manage other people's affairs.
….To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one's dignity.
To choose always the hardest.”
― Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living

My assessment of what humility is

Humility is to have full awareness of how far you still have to go before you can become what God means for you, yet see it without falling into despair that it can’t be done.  It is to be aware the distance can’t be closed without full submission to God and receiving enabling grace through the atonement of Christ. 
The humble man is confident in what he knows, yet never deceives himself into thinking that he knows anything but a tiny part of what can be known, and is not afraid of revising his knowledge.  He is comfortable with discovering his own ignorance, then seeks to educate himself.  He is respectfully curious and asks questions with charitable intent, expecting to discover the goodness in his fellows.

He can be corrected by others.  He confesses his errors readily and recognizes his human capacity to mistake.  When he sees the errors of others, he remembers his own.
He is equally content to be known or unknown, respected or not.  He remembers that he is part of a system and that others are equally striving.
He expresses gratitude fully and often, looks upon the world with awe, and sees each of his fellows as a universe to be explored.

He is willing to lose himself in focusing on others.

The humble man may be honored, but he sees these honors as directed more toward God who gave him life, talents, opportunities, and strength to overcome obstacles.  He sees privileges given to him as a sign that anyone may receive brief favor.

It is often said that if you think you’ve got humility then you don’t, but this isn’t very helpful because you have to be able to identify when you have acted in humility versus when you haven’t.   Instead, it is more useful to label various acts with their motivations as humble, rather than to think of ourselves as humble, since giving ourselves a label often leads to complacency and pride.  We will know when we are acting humbly when we have mortified our flesh and our ego and put God or one of our fellows ahead of ourselves.


Barbara said...

Thanks for compiling this list. I really love your insights at the end, too - thank you for sharing them.

Michaela Stephens said...

Glad you found this helpful, Barbara.
Humility is a tricky thing and it is not well understood, yet it is a virtue that substantially greases our interactions at all levels of society.

Thanks for stopping by.