I am constantly amazed by the games we get caught up playing.
I recently had someone ask me – seriously! – how he could be more humble. He had read a book on leadership that said humility was a trait of great leaders and he wanted in on this trend.
I asked him how humble he wanted to be and if he wanted to be more humble than all of his peers and bosses.
I was being jocular, but he took me seriously and nodded his head. He really wanted to be more humble than all the rest.
I remember reading somewhere – Catch 22 perhaps? – that, even in a group of average people, the protagonist stood out as being more average than all the rest.
I had a good, long laugh. All inward, of course. I did not want to hurt his feelings.
And then I answered his question.
Humility is not a trait you can cultivate.
You can certainly cultivate the appearance of humility, but you cannot cultivate humility. The very act of trying to acquire it, banishes it.
And, our society, with its emphasis on individual accomplishment, is not fertile ground for humility. Look at politicians feverishly trying to take credit for everything from the economy to the performance of national sports teams to understand this.
So, if you want to be humble, ruminate on impermanence.
Everything rusts, everything corrodes. Your youth and physical vitality will leave you. Your teeth will drop out and even your dentures will become loose. You will need a walker and stairs will become obstacles. Whatever you have accomplished will be forgotten. Whatever you have painfully acquired will be stripped from you.
As Shakespeare said: Imperious Caesar dead and turn’d to clay may stop a hole to keep the wind away.
And when you have truly become one with the notion that all things will pass and nothing lasts forever, you discover that humility has come in by the backdoor.