Humility—a controversial value

On my recent Core Values post I call out Humility as one of the five essential values to establish a way of being that offers a foundation for a right-brain, intuitive, creative culture—a culture that can support Agile. This caused a small stir in my twitter community, with a few people taking umbrage with the term, or even the very idea that humility was in any way useful. Humility is seen by these folk as negative trait, implying low self-worth, lack of pride, and self-abnegation. There is a religious connotation for many that seems to cause this resistance, and indeed enforced humility has been used as a tool of oppression in religious societies over the centuries—especially in the Catholic Church. It has been a way to keep the lower orders “in their place” and prevent uprisings and revolutions. This is to be loudly decried.

When humility is not enforced, when it is sought as a condition for respectful living, it takes on a different energy. Humility allows for quiet, internal reflection; it is a tool for rightsizing oneself, and thus opens up greater possibilities for thoughtful, considerate, and open interaction with others.

A particular bone of contention in yesterday’s dialog was the phrase “Humility consists in a realistic opinion of yourself, namely, that you are an unworthy person.” quoted from The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor, c1650.

I’m also repelled by the idea of unworthiness, believing all human beings to be worthy of love, kindness, and respect from their fellows, and from whatever one’s concept of God may be. But enjoying the spirit of the writing, and remembering that this was written almost four hundred years ago, I figured it was important to consider it in a modern context. Thus I read “unworthy” as “un-entitled”. Entitlement is the scourge of Western society, causing pain, misery, and crime. This is not to say we shouldn’t have basic rights, such as food, shelter, education, and medical care. We should, of course, and where necessary the society in which we live should be responsible for ensuring those rights. Beyond that, life is a gift, and learning to appreciate our gifts from a place of gratitude, and giving thanks, is a good foundation for a happy life—for ourselves, and for those we interact with.

Practicing humility reminds us to view life (including work) as a joy, not as a drudge, as something to embrace, not something to endure. It helps to keep us rightsized, and to keep our egos in check. This is is all to the good, especially in today’s corporate environment.

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