top of page
  • Writer's pictureDessislava Mladenova

Why Humility Is the Quality I Aim to Cultivate Daily


A sketch of a man dressed in a business suit kneeling down and drawing a chalk hopscotch on the ground.
Embracing life moment by moment with childlike wonder opens new realms of being and ultimately sets us free. Image credit: DessiYoga

 


Humility has been my trusted teacher numerous times in life, offering invaluable lessons and opening me up to new opportunities by seeing the world from different perspectives. For me, humility is the quality I strive to cultivate daily—it's a moment-to-moment endeavor.


Why is humility such a great virtue, you may ask? Let's begin with what happens when humility is lacking.


 

Throughout history, legends and tales caution against the dangers of unchecked pride and arrogance. Hubris, derived from the ancient Greek "hybris," refers to excessive pride, arrogance, or overconfidence—a destructive force that can lead to the downfall of entire civilizations.


In Greek culture, hubris was considered a grave character flaw, often leading to tragedy.


The Athenians, for example, had a mechanism in place to protect themselves from the dangers of unchecked arrogance and power.


Ostracism, practiced during Classical Greece, allowed citizens to vote to exile prominent leaders from the city-state for a period. This measure was not a response to a committed crime but rather served as a preventative measure against tyranny. The Athenians understood, as we do today, that power can corrupt.


Knowledge, too, can be misused for unethical purposes, leading to corruption or abuse of power. However, when coupled with ethical principles, humility, and a commitment to transparency and accountability, knowledge becomes a force for good.



The Substitution Ritual, also known as the Substitute King Ritual, was a historical annual tradition practiced in Mesopotamia, particularly in the city-states of ancient Sumer and Babylon.



During this ritual, the king temporarily stepped down from his throne and was replaced by a substitute or stand-in ruler. The substitute king would then strip himself of the royal regalia and garments, as well as confess his sins and shortcomings on behalf of the king. This symbolic act represented the king's humility before the gods and his acknowledgment of his own imperfections and limitations. Thus, the king underwent an annual symbolic "death" and "rebirth," tightly connected to the practice of humility.



The Titanic, Atlantis, and the Tower of Babel are just a few examples of events and legends cautioning against hubris.


 

Tower of Babel:


In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the people of the world learn to make oven-fired bricks, a significant achievement of human intellect. They decide to unite and build a tower reaching the heavens to make a name for themselves and prevent their scattering across the earth, driven by a sense of pride and desire for autonomy from divine authority. God, displeased by their hubris, causes them to speak different tongues, abandoning the construction project. This results in the opposite of what they desired as The Lord scatters them over the face of the whole earth.



Atlantis:


The legend of Atlantis, described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, is associated with themes of grandeur, technological advancement, and eventual downfall. The city of Atlantis was a marvel of engineering, featuring concentric rings of land and water connected by canals and bridges. The Atlantians possessed advanced energy sources and wisdom in various fields. However, their hubris and moral decline brought the wrath of the gods upon themselves, leading to their eventual destruction in a cataclysmic event according to Plato's accounts.



Titanic:


The Titanic was boasted to be "unsinkable," notable for its size, luxury, and technological advancements. It sailed from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, heading towards New York City, United States. However, the ship met a tragic fate when it struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage, resulting in the loss of over 1,500 lives. Overconfidence in the ship's safety features, inadequate lifeboat provisions, and inadequacies in communication and decision-making during the crisis were contributing factors to this unthinkable tragedy. These could have been reduced if not completely avoided by adequate safety and construction measures.



Jesus exemplifies humility in his words and actions, making it one of the most recognizable features of his character.


 


In the "Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector" from the Gospel of Luke, there is a stark warning and promise: “...those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.


Luke 18:9-14 (NIV):


"9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

10 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get."

13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.'"



If humility is such a foundational virtue, how do we cultivate it?


 

In the teachings from the foundational text of Yoga – the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the techniques to cultivate humility are well-established:


  • Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness: Practicing self-reflection (svadhyaya) and self-awareness (atma-bodha) through the study of sacred texts, uplifting literature, and introspection helps us understand our true nature and recognize our shortcomings without judgment.


  • Gratitude and Thankfulness: Cultivating gratitude (krta-jna) and thankfulness (pranidhana) towards the divine and all beings for the gift of existence and the opportunity for spiritual practice.


  • Service and Compassion: Engaging in selfless service (karma yoga) and cultivating compassion (karuna) towards all beings help overcome egoism and recognize the interconnectedness of all life.


  • Learning from Others: Humility involves recognizing that we do not have all the answers and that we can learn from others, regardless of their status, background, or beliefs. Seeking guidance from enlightened teachers (guru) and wise sages (rishis) deepens one's understanding of yoga and spiritual practice.


  • Surrendering to Something Higher: Ishvara Pranidhana involves accepting and recognizing a higher form of consciousness, power, or Supreme Being. Cultivating a sense of humility, surrender, and trust in the divine order of the universe helps let go of fixed ideas and preferences, embracing the impermanence of life, and surrendering to the flow of the present moment.



In Zen Buddhism, Stoicism, and many other religions and philosophical disciplines, the techniques to practice humility are similar. In Christianity, these teachings are rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, who exemplified humility through His incarnation, servanthood, and sacrificial love.



There are plenty of practical and straightforward ways to experience humility and shake ourselves out of the cycle of pride and hubris.


 

From my own experiences and conversations with others, here are a few ideas:


  • Take notice when you catch yourself judging someone at work or among your friends based on factors like their background, appearance, or beliefs. Instead of making assumptions, initiate a genuine conversation to connect with them and learn more about their perspective.


  • Venture to a new city you've never visited before. Exploring unfamiliar surroundings can offer a fresh perspective and remind you of the vastness of the world beyond your daily routine.


  • Step out of your comfort zone by attending a dinner or social gathering where you're the only one speaking English. Embracing unfamiliar situations can humble us and expand our understanding of different cultures and languages.


  • If you typically commute by car, switch things up for a day by cycling, walking, or taking public transport. This change of pace can help you appreciate alternative modes of transportation and foster a sense of empathy for those who rely on them daily.


  • Engage in activities where you know you'll feel inadequate or challenged. Whether it's trying a new sport, hobby, or skill, embracing moments of discomfort can humble us and remind us of the value of continuous learning and growth.


  • Volunteer for tasks or projects that push you out of your comfort zone or challenge your abilities. Giving back to your community in meaningful ways can provide perspective and remind you of the importance of humility and service.


  • Offer assistance to someone you wouldn't typically help out. Whether it's lending a hand with household chores, running errands, or simply offering a listening ear, acts of kindness and generosity can foster humility and empathy.


  • Join a new hobby group or class to explore interests outside of your usual routine. Engaging with diverse communities and learning from others can broaden your perspective and humble you through shared experiences.


  • Challenge yourself to learn something entirely new, whether it's a language, musical instrument, or artistic skill. Embracing the role of a beginner can humble us and remind us of the endless opportunities for growth and discovery.


  • Take time to engage in activities that inspire awe and wonder, such as watching educational videos or stargazing. These experiences can humble us by reminding us of the vastness and complexity of the universe.


  • Have conversations with children about complex topics like time, gravity, or light. Explaining these concepts in simple terms can humble us by highlighting our limited understanding and encouraging us to approach life with curiosity and openness.


  • Practice prayer or meditation to cultivate a sense of humility and connection to something greater than yourself. These practices can remind us of our place in the world and encourage us to approach life with reverence and gratitude.


  • Share your vulnerabilities and weaknesses with someone you trust. Opening up about your imperfections can humble us and foster deeper connections with others.


Remember, humility is an ongoing practice that requires self-awareness, openness, and a willingness to embrace vulnerability.


I'd love to hear about your own daily practices for cultivating humility. Feel free to share them through the Contact Us form — I'm planning to write another blog on the subject and would love to include your insights!



 


Special thanks to ChatGPT, an AI language model, for assisting with editing and refining this post.





Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page