Muhammad Ali is reported to have remarked, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am”. Many people have a wrong perception that humility is weakness; that self-promotion and assertiveness, even pride and arrogance or being brash are the means to achievement and success. It is true that today’s society, if the U.S president is an example, seems to denigrate the virtue of humility and promotes self-absorption.
A few months ago I posted 8 Pillars of Joy in this blog where humility is listed as one of the 4 attributes of mind that contribute to a full life of joy and peace, and in my book, my very last reflection also briefly touches on humility if we are to live with hope. Chapter two of my revised version of the book begins with the significance of this virtue, not only for individual happiness and fulfillment, but also for leadership and public life.
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin, America’s premier success story as an inventor, genius of building relationships and connecting people and hence, a diplomat and scientist, listed 12 areas of attitude and action he wanted to improve. Seeking input, he showed the list to a friend who, wrote Franklin in his autobiography, “kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation”. Because of the comment, Franklin listed humility as number 13 area of improvement.
I wonder how many of us would want to list humility as a character trait we would seek. Yet, as we will see in subsequent blogs, from the highest office holder like the president of the United States, to an alcoholic or drug peddler struggling through recovery and sobriety, humility, as Confucius noted, is the solid foundation of all virtues.