One of the greatest struggles of my life - especially in the last 10 years - is learning humility.
There are two kinds of proud people in life. The first variety are those whom are proud and know and act like it. The second kind are those who are proud but do not act like it, veiling their pride behind a veneer of quiet and self-retirement.
I fall into the second category. I know I fall into the second category because proud people really annoy me and, to quote some wise person, "What we most despise in others is what we recognize in ourselves".
Timidity is the step-sister of humility, often disguising pride under an appearance of not being proud. But it is not so - too often my own timidity is just my own fear of those who are involved in the conversation or situation and, upon their departure, my own pride will immediately re-assert itself.
Humility - true humility - is something which our society values in others, but not in ourselves. Our society has so structured itself that those who are leaders expect those under them to be humble in their acceptance of their words, opinions, and actions without any expectation or acceptance that they themselves should demonstrate the same qualities. Not surprising I suppose, in a society which above all glorifies the self in terms of how much attention one can draw.
Humility, it seems, is the opposite of the narcissist as well as prideful.
My own pride seems to have known no bounds in that it pretty much encompassed every portion of my life - in some way I was as smart, as educated, as attractive (insert large "guffaw" here), as relevant, as funny - if not more so - than everyone I encountered. Even if I was too timid to put myself forward as such.
The great thing about God is that He loves to work with such people. And by "work", I mean let them fall on their face again and again (and again) until they finally start to pay attention.
I have said things in ignorance -and been intellectual destroyed for them, as I should have been. I have made decision and had them go completely wrong because I knew better than those that would have done the research prior to making them. I have presented myself as the obvious choice for a role or position when in point of fact I not (and might never be). I have acted boldly when tact would have suggested otherwise because people act boldly - and boldly failed.
If pride is the emotional equivalent of self-immolation, I have set myself on fire a thousand thousand times.
At some point, of course, we are forced to take stock of precisely where we are in the state of our lives. Some people double down, believing that they have simply "done it wrong" up to that point. The others of us perhaps begin to question if our belief in ourselves were justified in the way we believed them to be.
It is then, perhaps, that we begin to address humility.
In my experience, perhaps what has helped me more than anything else in this regard is the practice of Iaijutsu. Performing something time after time, feeling like one has "got" it only to find that there are a plethora of other things to address, will wear down that sense of infallibility and "personal greatness" over time. Accepting that something is a lifetime challenge - and something that you ultimately never master although you can get closer - will change a person, given long enough.
For those that are believers, First Peter 5:5-7 says "Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for as it says 'God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." I used to separate those two concepts in my mind - Humble myself, casting all my cares upon God - as separate and unconnected events. But I have realized that they are in fact connected: How much of our pride derives from the fact that we believe that we must take care of everything ourselves, and that even if we do believe in God, we do not believe we can do as well as He can?
For those that are not believers, I think the question, slightly altered, still stands: How much of our pride derives from the fact that we are so certain that we know better than anyone else and cannot accept or believe that in some way or shape, we are not the measure of all things?
In writing this, of course, I leave myself open to all the examples of people who have acted humbly and been mistreated horribly, or undergone experiences with others who expressed false humility, or those that thought that being humble means being a doormat for everyone. The first two are failures of human interaction and not what humility is meant to be experienced as; the last is simply another misinterpretation of humility by ourselves or others to either serve some internal need in us or others.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gives what I have always considered to be the best and most meaningful definition of practical humility:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”