“Humble” May Not Mean What You Think

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What do you believe it means to be humble? I’ve always believed “humble” means being modest and respectful to others without trying to impose one’s own world views and opinions on others. But, whereas it seems many people seem to think that to be humble means always being self-effacing or submissive, I don’t think that’s true.

I think to be truly humble means never shying away from admitting mistakes. It also means taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Humility means doing things for the right reasons and never just for the sake of your own accomplishment.

What Does “Humble” Mean?

Let’s take a look at a couple dictionary definitions of the word humble. First, we’ll define humble as an adjective and again as a verb. I gleaned these definitions from Oxford Dictionaries via Bing.

The first definition is “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance.”

I don’t believe that humility means underestimating your importance in the world, because that’s how I read that definition. I think what it means is to understand how important every human being is. It’s also important to understand that every human being can do something incredibly important in helping other human beings realize their own importance.

Now, humble as a verb: “lower (someone) in dignity or importance.”

While I can see how a person may benefit in the long run from being humbled, it shouldn’t be in this exact way. I see how our world constantly “humbles” good people in this way all the time. No, humbling someone should be making haughty folks realize their own selfishness and self-aggrandizement so they can work on improving themselves. 

Most people, I find, really are less selfish and more absorbed in their concerns, such as paying their bills and staying alive and well. The truly humble, in the way I define humility, realize this and understand that everyone is important. But, no one human being is in reality any more important than another. Of course, in our celebrity driven culture, we often forget that.

If you want to see people to be humbled, take celebrities’ money and status away. Then, you’ll find the truly humble among them. Now, of course, there are many good celebrities who do good things with their fame and fortune. But, that doesn’t make them any better than any of the rest of us and they can be humbled just as anyone else can. For some reason, even when celebrities commit atrocious acts that would put most of us in jail (sometimes for life) or at least in social isolation, they bounce right back.

Meanwhile, the humble ones who continue to have life continue to “humble” them by the Oxford verb definition keep chugging through with zero recognition. Often, they are barely scraping by to keep their kids fed and a roof over their head. These are the truly humble people. They are those who are simply grateful for what they have and are generous enough to give of themselves even when they have so little. Those are incredibly beautiful people.

Most of you reading this are likely fair-minded and yourself struggling in various ways with finances, relationships and other things. Believe me that it’s actually useful to realize that there are about millions of other people in the same spot as you right now. That is a humbling thought, but a good sort of humbling. It means that you aren’t alone. No one’s more important than anyone else, and it takes true understanding of that point which makes one actually humble. So I would throw out those Oxford definitions and replace it with this:

One who is modest and respectful to others without trying to impose one’s own world views and opinions on others; one who may use self-effacing humor but without ever being submissive to the point that one loses one’s self; and finally, one who is simply grateful for what he or she has and is generous enough to give of one’s self even when he or she has so little.”

That’s a rather long definition, but that’s the one I’m sticking by. Humility, in that form, is truly beautiful. It’s a lot easier to be humble that you may have thought. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be confident in your own abilities and be proud of your accomplishments. As long as you realize that you can always accomplish more by helping others than you could ever do simply for yourself, you’ll realize what it means to be truly humble. 

~ Amelia <3

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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