The Virtue of Humility

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

An important virtue to talk about is humility.  It is notably so because the number one sin of humanity is pride.  Pride occupies the topnotch place among the seven capital sins because the closest thing to ourselves is ourselves.  The moment we gain consciousness the first thing we focus on is ourselves.  Although there is nothing wrong with that, but there is such a thing as original sin.  Original sin committed by our first parents Adam and Eve, is like a computer virus that destroys the natural function of the system.  Original sin wreaks havoc into human nature making it inclined to sin or easy to commit sin, and the hardest hit is our love for oneself.  We would now tend to love ourselves too much.

We are obliged to love ourselves first because we cannot love others, unless we first love ourselves.  But pride is loving ourselves too much. Pride makes us uncaring of other people’s needs and even at times looks down on fellow humans.  But the way to humility is looking up (to heaven) and acknowledging that we are created beings and that we did not give life to ourselves.  Once we acknowledge that we are just creatures and were created and that there is a Creator, it would be the first step towards the right road of humility.

The word humility comes from the Latin word “humus” which means soil.  To practice humility means to keep ourselves grounded and not to raise our status even when honestly or truthfully speaking we are worthy of such an elevated position.  “Truthfully speaking”, because the foundation of humility is the truth.  If your grade in math is 95 and you are asked by someone, “How much grade did you get?”  It is not boasting if you tell him that it’s 95, because it’s the truth.  What is boasting would be to unnecessarily tell others even if no one asked or to lie about your grade.  Humility is an intellectual virtue before it is a moral virtue for it consists essentially in an accurate knowledge of ourselves, our sins and weaknesses.  It is not necessarily to have a low opinion of ourselves but an accurate one.  As Rick Warren would say, “Humility is not to deny your strengths but not to deny your weaknesses.”  That’s why when we are sincere with others about ourselves, we are practicing humility especially in the Sacrament of Confession or when we confess our sins to a priest.

What are the other ways of practicing humility?  St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, enumerates these to us:  Not to think that what we do or say is always better than what others do or say; not to insist on arguing when we know we are not right; not to give our opinion unless it’s really necessary; to be aware that all the gifts and talents we have are exactly gifts; when we accept correction from others instead of making excuses (we are not perfect, which is the truth); to give praise when praise is due on others instead of being hurt when others are held in greater esteem than us;  when we willingly accept small tasks  (sometimes we think doing a menial task is something below our dignity); not to be ashamed for not being rich or having an esteemed career position as long as we are trying our best to be the best version of ourselves.

There is also such a thing as false humility.  It’s not aspiring to do one’s best or to make good use of our God given talents with the excuse of shunning fame because we want to be “humble”.  We ought to make our abilities flourish as long as we do it to help others and give honor to God who has given us such gifts. Often times the root cause of not developing one’s talents and abilities is laziness.

A proud person is always a turn off.  We easily detect it on others because we too have it ourselves.  C.S. Lewis said, “Pride is something we dislike on others when we have more of it ourselves.”  The remedy is to practice humility.  St. Augustine said, “If you find a virtue lacking in others (such as humility) when you try to practice it yourself you will then not become critical if you see others are lacking in it.”  It works because somehow, we become more understanding with the other people’s defects, knowing that you have that defect too and that everyone deserves the chance to change for the better.