Why be humble?
If humility consists in resisting the pressure of pride—whose power we can sense—it most certainly requires an effort. As all efforts, it needs to be justified, for after all, if the illusions of an oversized ego are part of my fundamental nature, and as long as they remain within the limits of reason, why try and rid myself of them—assuming this is even possible?
There are at least two reasons that would provide motivation for such an effort:
The first reason is ethical and refers to what has been called “love of truth”. While it is in my nature to be blind to the true place I hold in the world, it is also in my nature, once I have become conscious of an illusion, to try and free myself from it. No one can content themselves—unless they are spiritually dead—with living knowingly in error without trying to come clear. We are naturally inclined to seek truth, whatever it may be, even if it is unpleasant for our ego. Given that pride is founded on lies and illusions, it is our ethical duty to strive to become more humble so as to free ourselves from these lies and to come closer to the truth of what we really are.
As with all omnipresent and invasive character traits, consubstantial pride is difficult to localise. But a number of characteristics make it possible to pinpoint it. These characteristics are more or less obvious depending on the individual, but no one is entirely devoid of them. Delving within is all it takes to uncover strong tendencies that express themselves more or less openly depending on the situations, and take different forms, at times obscure, at times subtle or twisted.
Humility is the most accomplished form of self-knowledge. It presupposes that you have a clear and lucid perception of what you really are and of the place you hold in the world. It presupposes also that you look at yourself with neutrality and even distance: humility also means being able to look at yourself with humour.
As explained in my previous post, humility can be defined as the articulation point between two modes of the self (psychological and metaphysical): it means acknowledging my metaphysical condition (the “I am nothing”) even when I am in the midst of social interactions, surrounded by others, just like others. It means being aware of my insignificance even when I go about my business, defending my rights and making sure I command respect if necessary, while constantly carrying within me that “double thought” Pascal alludes to.
Humility used to be a cardinal virtue. It is, however, not so appealing to our minds anymore. It may be that we subconsciously associate it with humiliation, because both words are derived from the same root: humus (earth, ground). To be humble would then mean to belittle oneself, to stay on the ground, to submit: that is hardly a prospect one would consider desirable.
Why then should we contemplate this concept today? What use can it be to our practice of ethics? Well, it can transform the relationship we have with ourselves and with others in an extremely beneficial way.