Humility: Definition, Forms & Examples

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Humility can be a good or bad thing, depending upon your point of view and your goals in life. In this lesson, we discuss the definition, various forms, and some examples of humility.

What is Humility?

We've all seen it. Athletes stand on the field receiving high praise for their performance and immediately respond: ''Well, it was a team effort - everyone contributed.'' In Miss America pageants, the winners will bow their heads, break into tears, and seem overwhelmed, while all the girls who did not win clap and try to appear happy for the winner. In this lesson, we discuss the idea of humility, the forms it takes, and some examples of how it appears in daily life.

Practical Humility

Humility, from the Latin humilis, meaning low or small, means the quality of being free from pride and having a low (down to earth) view of your own importance or significance. People who exhibit humility tend to view others as equals or superiors. They tend to have low opinions of themselves, their behavior, and even their accomplishments. Practical humility can be described by three ideas:

  1. Relational humility is a form of honesty and accuracy. You see yourself as no more or less important than you really are.
  2. To be humble you must consider the welfare of others as highly as you view your own. Those who are humble tend to care, so they tend to be trusted by others.
  3. Humility tends to show up at moments when pride is most likely, such as when you win or lose a conflict, when you achieve something and desire recognition, or when you're being maligned or compared publicly to someone else.

Forms of Humility

There are many ways that humility can show itself in a person's life. For example, humility of the mind means you're open to the ideas of other people. You value other opinions as much as your own. You are willing for your own views to be challenged, and you are open-minded to the possibilities of those around you. Here are some specific forms:

  • Patriotism: It is very easy to be proud of your country, but humility of this type is the realization that other countries and other people have equal potential value and should be considered with as much sincerity and interest as you do your own.
  • Religious: Religious humility is the realization that anyone can be right and that other opinions may mean just as much to them as yours do to you. Whether or not you believe they are right, humility means that you respect other points of view and treat them personally with as much respect as you yourself would like to be treated.
  • Academic: Academic humility is being open to other ideas, thoughts, and accomplishments. In the academic community, many scholars attempt to push their own ideas ahead of others' and may even belittle discoveries of those who disagree. True humility shows itself in holding up other opinions as having equal potential significance and correctness as your own.

Examples of Humility

Humility appears in all walks of life. People give up their own privileges in order to serve those who have less. For example, Mother Teresa dedicated her life to minister to the poorest people in Calcutta. She saw their needs as just as important as hers, and she chose to live at their level in order to help them.

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