Saturday, October 5, 2013

Universal Spiritual Principles for Success: Humility

Today is Saturday, October 5, 2013.

The other day I read an article published for Humanity Healing written by Laura Fine, healer and therapist, about eight universal spiritual principles that healers and therapists should use in their healing practice.  As I read the article, I realized that these eight principles can be used by anyone, in any line of work.  Today and for the next seven days, I will present these eight principles for your consideration.

The first is humility.  I think a lot of people confuse humility with humiliation, and that leads to some uncomfortable associations.  They are completely separate concepts.  Humiliation involves a sudden loss of social position, embarrassment, or shame, often brought on by intimidation, mistreatment, or trickery on the part of another person.  Humiliation, generally, is brought on us by someone else.  

Humility, on the other hand, is a quality that we can cultivate for ourselves, and it involves looking outwardly toward others, and de-empthasizing our own importance.  This is not quite the same as debasing ourselves.  Rather, we simply recognize that others are as important as we are, and we treat them that way.   We don't necessarily have to elevate others above us, either.  Just treat everyone as if they are an equal. 

Humility doesn't have to do with refusing to recognize our own talents and strengths, or pretending, for the sake of modesty or social reasons that we are not skilled, talented or accomplished.  That's where Frank Lloyd Wright got it wrong when he said, "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility."  He thought humility meant not recognizing his considerable talents.  Not at all.

If we didn't have to deal with anyone else in life, I suppose we could dispense with the quality of humility, but that's not an option.  When working with others, whether they are our patients, students, customers, clients, or colleagues, we exercise humility when we recognize that we don't know all there is to know in every situation, and we don't necessarily know everything about the people we are dealing with.  It's a temptation to pigeonhole people, to put them in a box, so that we can deal with them more easily.  Many times, we judge people on the basis of years of experience, and we may be right in many details, but that doesn't prevent us from being surprised.  When we exercise humility, we acknowledge that there is always something new to learn, and that the processes of our lives are guided by higher forces that are at work in the background.  

Humility is often contrasted with pride or arrogance.  Let's look at this contrast to get a better sense of what humility is all about.  

Pride loves an audience, and uses conversation and contact with others to broadcast itself.  Pride loves to hear itself talk.  Pride assumes that it knows everything it needs to know, and that it has nothing to learn.  Pride refuses to be vulnerable, fearing that others may mistake openness for weakness.  Pride sees others as merely stage props in the play of life, in which it is the star.

Adinkra (West African)
symbol for humility
Humility, on the other hand, loves honest, two-way dialog, a give-and-take situation.  Humility asks questions to learn more about the other person.  Humility assumes that it may not know all the answers, and seeks input from others.  Humility values other people's input.  Humility knows that it needs other people, and engages in interdependence, willing to take a vulnerable position when necessary.  Humility puts effort and energy into listening to others and really hearing what they have to say.  Humility doesn't make assumptions about other people.  Humility sees others as fellow travelers in the journey of life. 

A friend of mine told a story once that illustrated the principle of humility brilliantly.  He was in training for a job with an advertising firm in Europe. In the training, small groups of trainees teamed with one employee of the company, who posed as a client.  The trainees were told that the client was an airline, and that they wanted to use a paper airplane in their ad.  The groups had a limited time to figure out what the client wanted, and they could only ask yes-no questions.  

Most of the trainees thought they knew everything there was to know about folding a paper airplane.  You know how to fold a paper airplane, don't you?  Simple.  Bing-bang-boom.  Most of them didn't bother to ask questions of the client.  They simply presented their client with a ready-made paper airplane.  VoilĂ . The problem is that every group that did this failed to please the client. 

What question could they have asked the client?  They could have asked, "Do you have any criteria for the plane you want us to make?"  and "Will you tell us what those criteria are?"   If the trainees had bothered to listen to their clients, they could have come up with something that the client actually wanted, instead of just presenting something that they knew how to do, but that the client wasn't looking for.  

Tomorrow: purity.  :-)