Humility of Heart
Humility is a rare and much misunderstood virtue. The word comes from the Latin, meaning “low.” Accordingly, to be humble is to be lowly in both one’s opinion and expression of oneself. Now, true humility is definitely not about self-denigration. Nor is it about feeling worthless. Rather, It’s about knowing one’s true worth. And it’s about knowing where that worth truly comes from.
Humility of heart means having and keeping a balanced sense of self. For the healthy character, that necessarily means divesting oneself of vanity or false pride. Stripped of pretense, one can be one’s authentic self. That’s why being of humble heart is a prerequisite to being of sincere heart and purpose.
Narcissism and the Roots of Vanity
We’ve been in an age of fairly widespread narcissism for some time now. There are many factors responsible for this. And I’ve written about some of them before. See, for example:
Narcissism is a principal feature in many character disturbances. And some forms of it can be particularly malignant. But the root of all narcissism is vanity. And at the root of vanity is an inflated ego. The more one’s ego barely recognizes, let alone reveres and strives to serve something bigger, the more it necessarily inflates. Vanity is the ego too enamored of itself.
Now we all need ego to survive in this sometimes crazy world of ours. But maintaining a balanced sense of self is crucial to good character. (See: p. 140 in Character Disturbance.) The problem with narcissists is that they either think too much about themselves or think too much of themselves. The vulnerable or compensatory type is always trying to prove worth. For them, their image is always on the line. (See also: Vulnerable Narcissists and Relationships). And that’s what fuels their excessive self-focus. The grandiose type is already convinced of their importance and greatness. So, they’re always trying to assert superiority. (See: Grandiose Narcissists.) Neither type has a proper sense of being a part of something bigger. It’s all about them. They neither recognize nor respect a “higher power” (regardless of what they might profess!). And that’s why they never outgrew their infantile egocentricity.
Another look at the “1st Commandment”
If you will recall, the first “commandment” of good character is all about outgrowing our natural egocentricity. It reads:
You are not the center of the universe. [Rather, you’re but a part of something much greater and more wondrous than you can possibly imagine.] So, be mindful of how you, your urges and desires, and most especially, your behavior, impact everyone and everything else that exists.
This commandment is all about seeing oneself in proper perspective. Whether we like it or not, or appreciate it or not, this existence is definitely not all about us. There’s much more to it. There’s a much bigger reality. And how we see ourselves in relation to that reality makes all the difference. It largely defines our character. (See also: pp. 3-17 in The Judas Syndrome.)
So, to be of sincere heart, one must first be of humble heart. And to be of humble heart is to stand in awe of a much greater reality. I’m talking about the reality that gave birth to us and sustains us. And that reality not only existed before us but will also go on without us. Humility is ultimately about recognizing our inherent lowliness within the bigger picture. But paradoxically, it’s also about recognizing our true and priceless worth. Each one of us is meant to be here. So, it behooves us to recognize, claim, and live out our purpose.
Next week we’ll be talking about how to set all pretense aside and live authentically. It’s just another aspect of being of sincere heart and purpose.