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My Life

10 Things Humility is Not

I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t read it, go get it on Kindle, Amazon, Audible, your library (yes, they still exist!). I love this book. It’s brilliant and I think everyone should read it.

It’s written from the perspective of Uncle Screwtape, a demon, who is training his nephew, Wormwood, in how to lead humans away from God. In one of his letters, Screwtape writes about the virtue of humility:

“Let him think of [humility] not as self- forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character… Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be… By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.”

Often I find that in my attempt to be humble, I’m often doing navel-gazing — fixating more on myself, thinking “oh my gosh, look at me, being so humble.”

Uncle Screwtape goes on to write that God’s goal is for every human to be able to recognize all creation, including himself, as wonderful and excellent. He notes that “when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors.” Have you ever thought about that? That true self-love allows you to love your neighbors perfectly? People often think of humility as loving one’s self less, but in a sense, it’s learning how to love yourself and others more perfectly.

So rather than telling you all the things humility is, here’s a list of 10 things humility is not.

1. Vanity
Van * i * ty (noun) — inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance.
This one’s pretty obvious. If I were to ask most people what the opposite of humility is, I think most people would think of pride/vanity. It’s that egocentric attitude that is consumed by the thoughts of oneself and looks. I’m sure you know people who meet this definition; they’re not fun to be around, because everything seems to center around them.

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2. Forgetting Your Worth
Someone once said “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility does not mean that you hate who you are or what you look like, it does not mean believing you are worthless. Humility means recognizing other people’s worth and talents, but it also means recognizing your own gifts and worth.

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3. Bragging
Bragging is honestly one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when it comes to grades. I can’t stand when people flaunt their grades in your face, especially when no one asked. When people boast about their accomplishments, it seems to take away from all the good they’ve achieved. Humility does not mean denying these gifts (see #2), but it also means recognizing not everyone has the same gifts, privileges, or opportunities as you; and consequently, not rubbing it in people’s faces.

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4. Humblebragging
Formula for humblebragging: boast about an accomplishment/experience + a negative comment/question = The Humblebrag
Ahh. The humblebrag. I’ve been guilty of this many times, in fact, one of my closest friends just called me out on this (thank God for friends who keep us humble, amIright?). Senior year of high school seemed to be fraught with Humblebrags: “Oh my gosh, I have no idea why, but somehow I got into Yale, isn’t that so weird?” (I’d roll my eyes and internally say “um no. You have a 4.0 gpa and got a 36 on the ACT). Humblebrags drive me crazy because it seems like someone is begging for a compliment and I find it usually leads to resentment from other people. When people are truly humble, I celebrate their joys and accomplishments. So there’s another reason to be humble–not just for your own soul, but to help lead others in virtue and avoid sins like jealousy.

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5. Being unable to acept a compliment without putting yourself down (or laughing awkwardly)
For some reason, I associate art class with this. I’d turn to a friend who had created an incredible painting, and say “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing! You’re so talented.” And then in turn would laugh awkwardly and say “what this, no, it’s terrible.” Meanwhile, you both know this painting is like a modern day Michelangelo. Ugh. Someone who is truly humble would just say thank you and celebrate the gift they’ve been given!

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6. Forgetting that through God all things are possible
This is the God complex. These people forget that everything they have—all their talents and accomplishments—are only possible because of God. This attitude can look like a pro-sports player. But it also comes in a more subtle form— the perfectionist who feels as though the weight of the world is on their shoulders and without them and their skills everything will fall apart. I can fall prey to this mentality sometimes. Humility means your priorities are rearranged. A humble person remembers that God holds everything in His hand and everything is from Him. As St. Paul wrote, “may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

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7. Discrediting your gifts and talents by casting them all on God
I’m guessing this GIF isn’t totally fair to Carrie Underwood, but I’m intentionally taking it out of context. Imagine if every time she won an award or produced an album she said something along the lines of, “well, it wasn’t me, it was God.” True, God gave her the gift or music and perhaps willpower. But it is up to her to use the gifts God gave her. It’s good to point back to God, but it’s also necessary to acknowledge how hard you worked to achieve something and the people in your life who helped you get to that point. God doesn’t magically allow things to happen. In fact, acknowledging your role in it further glorifies God because it demonstrates your participation in God’s will.

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8. Jealousy and envy
Oof. Jealousy. Humble people do not resent other people’s achievements and acts of virtue, nor do they rejoice in their misfortune, failures, or sin.

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9. Being reserved or unopinionated
Humility does not mean you are a doormat. You can be a leader and be humble, in fact — humility is an excellent trait in a leader. It means that you voice your opinion when someone asks for it, it means asking questions, admitting failures, and seeking help when you don’t know how to do something. A humble leader acts with integrity and seeks the good of all people, which often, especially as a Christian, requires you to “go against the flow.”

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10. Thinking You’re So Humble
My mom has a sign in her room that reads, “Don’t be so humble — you’re not that great.” When I was little I used to be confused by this. Isn’t humility a good thing? It is of course (hence the purpose of this article). But what this sarcastic quote gets at is when people think they have to be humble because they’re so good at [insert something here] that they start becoming prideful over the fact that they’re “so humble.” Phew. That was long-winded. Hopefully that makes sense. It’s kind of hard to explain sarcasm. Essentially, once you’re celebrating how humble you are, odds are you have not acquired that virtue and need to reflect more on the vice of pride.

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About the Author

Caitlin Sica

I am a New Hampshire girl at heart. Mondays guarantee a messy bun, I run on coffee, and I could probably live off of pizza. I think my job, as a Catholic Youth minister, is one of the most rewarding jobs. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, to see God in the most unusual places and in the most unexpected ways. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @CaitSica!