A "friend" of mine recently  told me that I should "humble" myself. Apparently, she felt that I have an inflated ego. Of course I don't consider myself to be overly egocentric, and in fact, I believe she was being unfair in her analysis. However, the comment did cause me to pause and begin to wonder what "humility" really means, and why is it considered to be an admirable trait?

I will postulate that the terms "humble" and "humility" are rather subjective and any discussion of the meaning of these terms will be somewhat arbitrary. According to "humble" is defined as follows: 


[huhm-buhl, uhm-] Show IPA adjective, -bler, -blest, verb, -bled, -bling.
1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.
2. having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble.
3. low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; lowly: of humble origin; a humble home.
4. courteously respectful: In my humble opinion you are wrong.
5. low in height, level, etc.; small in size: a humble member of the galaxy.
verb (used with object)
6. to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase.
7. to destroy the independence, power, or will of.

Hmmmn. There is little here that I would consider to be a desirable quality in anyone...certainly one should strive to not be arrogant. From the first definition it appears that in order to be "humble" one must first be successful--that leaves me out; I have never been successful. I wonder if my "friend" was trying to help me or just put me down? Perhaps she was just calling me arrogant and unsuccessful--if so, she would not be the first to call me arrogant. I have little patience for ignorance and some people interpret that as arrogance. If she was trying to point out that I am unsuccessful, it was hardly necessary--I already know that.

Let's take a look at the word "humility":


[hyoo-mil-i-tee or, often, yoo-] noun
the quality or condition of being humble;  modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.

lowliness, meekness, submissiveness


And "Humiliate":


Make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, esp. publicly.

Actually, that sounds exactly like what was going on when my "friend" requested that I "humble" myself. 

The dictionary also mentions that the word originated in early feudal England and France (some time between 1200 and 1250-A.D.). This doesn't surprise me much--after reading the definition above, this looks like a word that may have been used by the clergy to keep the lower classes in "their place", much in the way they admonished the poor to be content in their misery with the promise of an everlasting reward in the afterlife (as long as they do as they are told).

Well, I still don't think these are qualities that a person in my station should try to adopt. Let me give a response to my "friend's" request that I "humble" myself here:

I will humble myself when my peers stop acting like selfish preschoolers who need a nap;
I will humble myself when world leaders learn to behave responsibly and act on behalf of their people;
I will humble myself when the wealthy stop pretending that they are more intelligent, industrious and righteous than the poor;
I will humble myself when religious zealots stop killing people in the name of their fictitious gods;
I will humble myself when I see other people treating each other with the same respect and unconditional love that I have for even the most ignorant and naive of my fellow humans.
I am humbled by the immensity of the universe and the insignificance of humankind. 

My advice: Watch out for people who tell you to humble yourself.

David Settino Scott