Posts tagged with #Humility
I’ve been reading a lot about temperance and moderation, and its impact on our culture, and by extension, our leaders and role models.
The Big One and I recently got back from our annual father-son trip to DC. It was a great trip for a number of reasons - lots of sights to see, museums to learn from, and experiences to be had. One of my highlights was the chance to learn more about our founding fathers. I learned about their quirks, their thought processes, their goals, and their values. Humility, tolerance, and patience are oft respected, demonstrated, and spoken of as praiseworthy.
In modern times, many of our prominent leaders seem to have a lack of these traits and often demonstrate quite the opposite. This is unfortunate, but not altogether unexpected. This is because each of these traits are difficult in themselves:
Our world values confidence. In leaders, in friends, in lovers, even in children that are selected for advancement. We are drawn to those that can stand against the waves and stay steadfast in their choices.
This is a good thing.
But balance. Temperance. Being able to have all things in moderation. Confidence without humility becomes arrogance. We miss teaching that part, and miss evaluating the balance there.
In our work-dominated American culture it is important for people to be right a lot. When people are right a lot they tend to build self confidence and begin to trust more in their thoughts, opinions, and processes. This is a great thing. But left unchecked and without temperance, without balance, this quickly turns into arrogance.
The counterbalance for this is supposed to be the principle to learn and be curious. However that tends to translate into a future focused learning and less a retrospective humility. True humility requires time, requires introspection, requires patience.
George Washington highlights this in his farewell address to the nation after declining to run for a third presidential term:
“Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”
Confidence is a great and valuable trait, but it must be accompanied by a reflective humility.
We live in an intolerant world. We’re constantly up in arms about anything and everything. This is likely because we’ve lost the ability to separate ideas from identity. When someone has a different perspective, we treat that as an affront to our identity.
And so we get defensive. Self preservation dictates that we defend ourselves and stands up for our strongly held beliefs. And so the cycle of intolerance continues.
Instead, we ought to refocus not on our differences, but on our similarities. Regardless of our deeply rooted beliefs, our concerns and cares may have much more overlap than we may think, if we only looked past those differences. In looking to these similarities and in bringing them into focus, we allow our differences to lose their intensity, their prominent place in our minds. As we become more tolerant not of the behaviors themselves but of the people behind those behaviors and as we begin to separate action from identity, we will presently find ourselves in the company not of hostile adversaries that we are forced to endure but rather the company of like-minded individuals that have a shared common goal.
If the vision is big enough, the details don’t matter as much.
If our focus and gaze on our similarities is strong enough, the differences, the details, the nuanced deviations don’t matter as much.
We have lost the ability to wait. We spend an exorbitant amount of money on these little boxes that we carry with us everywhere that allow us to never have to wait for anything. When we’re waiting in line for our coffee we have to distract ourselves by scrolling. When we wait for our dinner partner to use the rest room we immediately pull out these boxes and scroll.
We have lost the ability to be at rest, to let our minds wander, to wait for the next thing.
At the surface, this seems fine. Why wait when we can fill our idle time with productivity? And if not productivity, at least entertainment? If time truly is the only resource in life we never get back then why waste it? Why shouldn’t we fill it with anything and everything? In some sense, noise is better than silence… isn’t it?
In what’s possibly the most impactful class I’ve ever taken in my life, my wonderful senior year English class (thank you Ms Corey!) had as a reading assignment an essay that has stayed with me throughout the years and is one that has slowly but silently shaped the course of my life: /“The eloquent sounds of silence”/. In it, the author compels us consider for a moment the role that silence plays in our world.
As true today (if not more so) as it was back in 2001 when it was written, the essay urges us to consider what a noisy world we live in, and to consider that silence is not a failing to be remedied, not a bug to be fixed, but rather a goal, a valued treasure that we need to work for, to earn. “In love”, he says, “we are speechless; in awe, words fail us.”
Silence. Patience. The ability to wait, to be comfortable with one’s own thoughts. These practices allow us to meditate, to deeply consider, to unlock the wisdom and understanding that comes from patiently considering all that the unconscious mind has learned, has gleaned, and has ruminated on.
Many of us regret the next day our immediate responses and reactions from the day before. Our impatience causes us to act rashly; our focus on immediate results causes us to take suboptimal paths that often are altogether counterproductive.
How we can develop these traits
Our world often praises the opposites of these traits. Instead of humility we praise confidence. Instead of tolerance we praise sticking to one’s guns. Instead of patience we praise a bias for action.
How do we not only develop these traits but apply them successfully in our world? As with all change, we need two things: a change of mindset and a change of habits. First, we need a mindset shift.
- Play the long game. Know that in the end, character will always win. We may be tempted in the short term with shiny distractions that seem like quick fixes, but over the course of a lifetime, character always wins. Play to win.
- Value relationships. In our increasingly connected world, it is becoming virtually impossible to accomplish anything of value on your own. We need others. Whether for professional endeavors or personal ones, our world is powered by relationships.
- It will more before it gets better. As with any meaningful changes we make, things will initially seem to get worse as we seek to develop and apply these traits. This is normal. We need to scrub off the old paint before we can apply a fresh coat!
Next, we need to start building a few small habits.
- Give twice as much praise as criticism. It will feel like you’re constantly giving (or thinking about how to give) praise at first, and it will seem disproportionate. If you need to, keep a tally - I guarantee you’ll have given less praise than you thought.
- Don’t think of a response while someone is talking. Most of us aren’t fully listening; we’re formulating our rebuttal. Don’t. Spend time fully engaged on every word the other person is saying. In doing so, you stop trying to highlight the differences to counter and instead highlight the similarities to agree on.
- Set aside time dedicated for silent thought. It may be as little as five minutes a day, but be disciplined in this. Set aside that time and stick to it. Use a timer if you must. It is an important step in cultivating a stronger internal life.
- Find others who want to be on this journey with you. Life is too short to be lived alone. Find others that are like-minded and intentionally journey together.
Be warned: cultivating a spirit of humility, tolerance, and patience isn’t easy, nor is it popular. There will be much pressure to give into short term wins, to take short cuts, to grab immediate satisfaction, but a life of temperance, of moderation, and of balance will always win in the end!
And so my boys, my hope for you is not that you be secluded from the world and run away from it while developing these seemingly counter-cultural traits; quite the contrary. My hope is that you have balance. While the world will naturally urge you to develop confidence, resolve, and a bias for action, I hope you will temper those with humility, tolerance, and patience to become well-rounded men. I love you boys!
One of the toughest things that a man must do is to admit when they’re wrong. We are wired for victory, for success - from an early age, we’re taught that it is praiseworthy to succeed and to be victorious. Hopefully by the time you read this, your mother and I will have instilled in you our philosophy that learning, making progress, and improving yourself are more important than winning.
Life is about more than just the destination. The journey is equally - and sometimes even moreso - important.
And so today we’re going to talk about something that every great man knows is the right thing, but many find difficult to do. Taking responsibility for your own actions, especially when things go wrong.
It’s a story as old as storytelling itself - the first sons of the world struggled with this very concept. In Genesis 4, we’re told the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Because of his jealousy and his own inadequacies before God, Cain takes Abel’s life out of anger and frustration. That of itself is already quite bad, but when God calls him on it, what is Cain’s response?
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” - Genesis 4:9
I won’t mention that this was already a family trait, as dad had already pulled the same stunt with God, blaming Eve for his eating the apple before the two of them got themselves kicked out of paradise. Oh and so did mom - she passed the blame onto the serpent.
Great start humanity has eh?
Fast forward a bit, and we’ll see that even God’s favorite son struggles with this one. Thankfully for mankind, when the prophet Nathan confronts him, David does in fact repent and fesses up and repents for his actions, but even he needed a kick in the pants to get on the right page.
So what does this mean for us?
I believe there are a few reasons why taking responsibility for your own actions is not just something that we ought to do, but is something that actually gives us strength and adds to our effectiveness. Here’s why.
Absolutely the most importat. Having integrity is what makes a man. I don't care what anyone else says. Integrity is in my books one of the most (if not *the* most) important traits a man can have and must guard. It is the quality that brings out the best in you and in those around you because it's the quality that says no matter what the circumstance, no matter who's watching, no matter what the arguments are opposed, I *will* do the right thing.
- Earnest connection
By taking responsibility for our actions and admitting when we're wrong, we move ourselves from the adversarial position to an earnest and open one. As a populice, we resonate with leaders that let their guard down and share an apology, a fault, a heart-felt admittance of failure. By displaying vulnerability, we remind people that we're all flawed and broken, striving to be better, reaching for that beau ideal of human excellence.
Taking responsibility also keeps us honest and keeps us humble. It keeps us in a posture of humility where we're able to hear truth being spoken into our lives. It lets us recognize that we need to grow, and lets us see the path ahead.
I love the quote by legendary football coach John Wooden about the topic. He says that “you aren’t a failure until you start to blame”. How true that is!
And so my son, my challenge to you this time is to continue striving for greatness, continue growing and learning and trying new things, and to continue putting yourself out there and going out on a limb for things. As you do that, you’re bound to have set backs, and when you do, my prayer is that you’re able to own up to those too. Claim your losses just as you claim your victories; they both are great opportunities for growth and for deeper connection. And those are great things.
By now, you'll discover that something your dad has never lacked is self confidence. Many of my thoughts on the world are viewed through that lens, and while self confidence is a great thing, it is sometimes worthwhile to examine the world through a different lens and see what we can learn from there.
It's in that light that I write this series of thoughts.
While being confident in yourself and being firm in your convictions is a great thing, there are times in a man's life where he must accept that he is simply wrong, and to do so gracefully and humbly. There are a few reasons for this.
- Admitting you're wrong gives you the ability to be stretched. The posture of humility is one that focuses not on one's self achievement and worth, but one that allows one's short comings and insufficiencies to be revealed. In that revelation is the opportunity for change, and for God to take those flaws and begin His work of perfecting them.
- Admitting you're wrong gives others the ability to bless you. By allowing someone else to speak into your life, you not only build their confidence, but you open a channel of trust and vulnerability in your relationship. The strongest relationships are forged as we go through the tough grit of life together, and nothing is tougher than the strengthening of character, the development of the manliness that is our birthright.
- Admitting you're wrong keeps your heart humble, and able to hear God. Nothing stops you from hearing the voice of God more than pride. It is the characteristic that says that we are sufficient for ourselves, that we are able to accomplish all that we need to in this life on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God desires humility in our lives; as we are emptied of ourselves, we can then be filled with the things that He desires for us.
Remember that our goal is to live life as Christ tells us we ought to live it, and whatever means He uses to get us there should be wholeheartedly embraced. I've spent much of my life trying to find the right balance here, and hopefully by the time you read this I'll have a better handle on it, but for now, suffice it to say that I believe this will be a life-long activity. One that will be difficult, but one that will ultimately refine us to be men worthy of God's calling and original design for us, and one that will create many memories and forge many strong friendships along the way.