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The Hidden Cost of Humility

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by Angie G.

Humble adj: 1: not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive 2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission 3: ranking low in a hierarchy or scale: INSIGNIFICANT, UNPRETENTIOUS

Humble vb: 1: to make humble 2: to destroy the power, independence, or prestige of

I have to be honest.  I’ve never looked up the word “humble” in a dictionary.  Like many of us, I learned from my parents and other adults what it meant.  I learned that it was a bad thing to be too proud or too confident or too sure of myself; that it was okay for others to compliment or praise me, but never was I to act as if I thought I really deserved it.  That would just be arrogant and well…wrong.  But lately, I’ve pondered the true meaning of the word and whether or not our obsession with others seeing us as being humble has done us more harm than good. I wondered if we’ve been getting it all wrong.

So I decided to look to look the word up, and as I came across “humble” in the dictionary, I was struck dumb.  One definition in particular jumped off the page and smacked me across the face; “to destroy the power, independence, or prestige of.”  There it was in black and white.  Seeing those words before words before me, I finally understood.

Like most, my parents wanted to ensure that I would not grow up to be haughty or pretentious.  Their intention was to raise me to be a “good” person, and it became clear to me early on that it was not acceptable for me to think or act like I was “something.”  But, if I wasn’t supposed to act like “something”, what was the alternative?  As I observed the adults around me, looking for clues as to how I should behave, I began to see how important it was for everyone to ACT humble.  I picked up all the little expressions, mannerisms and sayings that were meant to convey my humility to others, and I learned that it was not important enough for me to BE humble.  In order for it to be “real”, others had to see it and from what I could gather at that time, that meant that I was expected to play myself down.  And if I didn’t, I would be brought down.  I would be “destroyed.”  Like any good girl, I played by the rules but I couldn’t reconcile the concept that in order to be “good”, or “nice” as others thought I should be, I would be required to diminish the self that I knew, as all children know, myself to be: a shiny and bright light, the fullness of which was meant to be shared with the world.

And as I look around, I see so many of us, even in our adulthood, struggling to shine- to be proud of ourselves, to be noticed, and to be adored.  But we have suppressed the bright light of our authentic power and have instead settled for flimsy representations of our extraordinary selves.  We wear the “right” labels, drive the “right” cars, have obtained the “right” degrees, know the “right” people, and belong to the “right” organizations.  We yearn to be great, but allow ourselves to be buried by the stuff; forgetting that there is nothing that we could buy, wear, or have that could ever outshine who we really are.

In our desire to ACT humble, we have concealed our own natural, beaming light.   We have become reluctant, embarrassed, or even ashamed to share what’s truly good about us for fear that we will be criticized or judged for thinking too highly of ourselves.  We have camouflaged our brilliance.  We have become “humble”, but at what cost?

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