Does humility really make you go a long way? (Or does it make you an easy pushover?)

A little humility goes a long way…

Is this always the case? An ex colleague of mine, was a fairly capable professional. Being slightly more senior than than half of my fellow colleagues, he had a wealth of experience we have yet to possess. He descended from a European heritage. He was a jovial, talented and a creative person. He was a good friend and a caring one. Plus, he had a unique sense of humour, one which never fails to crack up those within a three metre radius. He was a very intelligent person, one whom you would not hesitate to have an intellectual conversation with. He was someone who had a brilliant, well-informed analytical mind.

However, this particular colleague of mine had a characteristic which proved to be his achilles heel. He was nice and modest as a person. Rarely did he ever brag about his accomplishments. He was not one who was quick to seize credit. Neither was he someone who would brag about his ideas and contributions. This proved to be a fatal flaw for him. There were many a times where he deserved far more recognition than he was given. He was often sidelined. Over time, he left the workplace without much credit given to him by the organisation that he worked for. However, those who were once close to him recognize him for his capability.

Another colleague of mine who was equally capable in almost every way was far less modest in his contributions. He would inform the others of the contributions that he made without acknowledging that there are people who have played a part in his contributions to the organisation. He rose through the ranks of the organisation pretty fast. Was humility a damning quality for my first colleague? One would argue that there might be other differences in characteristics between the two. As far as I am concerned, the main difference between the two was one. Why then is humility a desirable virtue in the society if it does not draw the attention of the world to your achievements and capabilities?

I was raised in a progressive Asian society which considers humility a virtue. Humility is a hghly regarded virtue in the social landscape that I grew up in. At least that was what I observed back then. One should not brag. Ego is bad for you. It makes you look bad. It hurts the feelings of others. It causes envy. Humility hence serves as a an ointment to relationships. It does not create friction in the same way pride does.

What about those who selectively abandon the virtue of humility? What about those who selectively blow their horn to garner attention to their successes and succeed? Is it not a reward for them to continuously blow their horn? Is humility more predominant in the Asian society as compared to the west?

Though there are differences between the Eastern and Western values and within subsets of each of them,  one would find that there are many virtues that trascend human cultures and civilization, humility being one. To believe that humility is valued solely at its existence, to believe that not showing off, not blowing your own horn, not bragging about your successes should be the reason of an applause is simply to create an superficial value for this virtue.

Humility is a virtue because it should be deeply internalised. The researcher simply does not stop at a discovery because he is not proud of what he has achieved. He or she does not stop because that extra effort that he or she puts in will create an even larger discovery, or may render the previous one flawed, or may lead him to a realisation that further ventures are simply too not worth the trouble.

The athlete believes that his technique is far from perfection and hence he continuously perfects it. He believes that his strength and fitness is operating below the optimal level and hence he trains in a manner that will allow him to achieve his fullest potential. The professional chef continuosly perfects his skill and mastery of the art, knowing that what brings him success at the moment may not bring him glory in the near future.

The result - an athlete and a chef that are able to continuously improve.

Humility is a virtue to be internalised. It is a virtue that could only yield results over the long term. It is a state of the mind that tells you that there is need to continuously improve. The product : a person who continuously improves. Humility makes one go a long way.

Abraham A. L

Originally written on 6th December 2015

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