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Humility 2 – Definition

Pretentious student

Thus he had a double thought: the one by which he acted as king, the other by which he recognized his true state, and that it was accident alone that had placed him in his present condition. […] It was by the former that he treated with the people, and by the latter that he treated with himself.


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 is often confused with modesty, which is merely the external manifestation of humility and can be considered a social virtue. But being humble doesn’t only mean being kind, polite and discreet with regard to one’s successes. The virtue of humility comes before these qualities. You may very well be internally humble but still capable to hold your own and assert your authority when the situation requires it; just as you may very well show modesty and respect on the outside but feel very much superior on the inside. As La Rochefoucauld put it, humility is “an artifice of pride which stoops to conquer, and although pride has a thousand ways of transforming itself it is never so well disguised and able to take people in as when masquerading as humility.” That’s very true, but only if you confine humility to a social virtue. Humility as we understand it here fits in another category. It is an internal state of mind, a work on your thoughts that can manifest itself—or not—in modest external behaviour, depending on the context.

Humility is a feeling that consists of becoming aware of what we are. It means realizing that we aren’t much on the one hand, while accepting ourselves as such on the other. In that sense, it is an indispensable condition both to our psychological well-being (we feel good because we learn to accept ourselves) and to our ethical progress (we move away from the false image the ego tries to give of itself and the perception we have of ourselves gets closer to the truth).

Consubstantial pride

It is often very instructive, when trying to define a term, to make a detour via its opposite, in this case, pride.

If humility goes hand in hand with self-knowledge, then pride is synonym with ignorance and illusion with regard to oneself. Pride would then be ignorance, or untruthfulness. Let’s look into this visibly close link between humility, knowledge and truth. The greatest scientists are often said to be the most humble. Why? Because it seems obvious that, for example, a great physicist will never consider bragging about his knowledge of physics. Thanks to his knowledge, his perspective on current science is sufficiently enlightened to allow him to perceive the immensity of all that is left to be discovered. As a result, he is humble—humble with regard to all that he doesn’t know, yet knowledgeable enough to have a real appreciation of the extent of what remains to be known. One might say that he knows what he doesn’t know. Let’s now consider a third year college student majoring in physics. That student has started to assimilate some of the fundamental laws that govern the natural world and this little bit of knowledge is enough to fill his narrow field of perception. Intoxicated and puffed up by this sensation, he feels as if he had understood the secret of the universe without realizing, yet, how much more remains to be learned.

Pride thus results from ignorance. It is an energy rooted in our lack of knowledge of ourselves that pushes us to build a dilated and false image of ourselves, which may be called the illusory ego. You know this poor proud wretch with a swollen ego? That’s all of us. Because the pride we are talking about here isn’t a psychological characteristic that only some of us would have while others would be spared from it (in the way one can say that some people are quick-tempered or lazy while others are calm or hard-working…). It shouldn’t be confused with vanity or arrogance, as these are merely external and particularly obvious manifestations of an internal state, which often remains hidden. The pride we are talking about is like a “solvent (1)” in which the entirety of our psychological characters is immersed. It so wholly impregnates us that we are unaware of it. This pride is consubstantial with our very being and most often closely related to the sensation we have of being ourselves.

As such, it concerns everyone, even those who are kind, even those who are shy, even those who are discrete, even—and perhaps even more—those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem.

(1) ^ This term is used by Bahram Elahi in Foundations of Natural Spirituality.

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  1. Juneone Jul 02, 2012 6:28 pm 1

    I appreciate the way these articles get so particular. At the top of the reading, i was thinking how humility is not difficult for me, i was “raised right”. But here the author digs in to separate humility from modesty: it’s forcing me to think beyond my superficial approach to life. It is easy to confuse the true meaning of these principles when so little of these truths are supported by common discourse: and this is where I generally stay. It’s a bit heavy to think about the work to be done, but as suggested, I have to try to get to a place where I can accept that I am not much, and so naturally this will be very hard work.

  2. MaryS Jul 03, 2012 5:03 am 2

    Why does it say, “even—and perhaps even more—those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem?” Can someone please explain it?

  3. learner Jul 03, 2012 5:27 am 3

    This article made me realize how much pride has been at the forefront of my attitude recently. There are many examples that rush to me as I am writing this comment and it upsets me to know that I usually take a little step forward and a few backwards. My favorite piece of this article is the following:

    “As such, it concerns everyone, even those who are kind, even those who are shy, even those who are discrete, even—and perhaps even more—those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem.”

    This emphasizes how tricky the work of our imperious self is. I hope with practice we can all progress forward.

  4. 723 Jul 05, 2012 5:35 pm 4

    Thank you for the article. It helps me recognize the symptom of pride better, as pride is said to be the main tool of the imperious self.

    The end of the article reads: “This pride is consubstantial with our very being and most often closely related to the sensation we have of being ourselves.
    As such, it concerns everyone, even those who are kind, even those who are shy, even those who are discrete, even—and perhaps even more—those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem.

    I am wondering if someone can give a hypothetical example of someone that is prideful but who Lacks self-confidence and self-esteem? I know that the author has separated the metaphysical and the psychological pride, but what is their relationship to lack of self-confience and lack of self-esteem?

    Thank you

  5. Holly Jul 06, 2012 3:06 pm 5

    Thanks for the wonderful article. It once again woke me up as to how wrong i have been in considering myself as a humble haracter!! And how far i truly am from knowing not just myself but rather my abilites in life as well as how simple minded yet big headed i i can be.

  6. Nell Jul 06, 2012 7:40 pm 6

    Thanks so much for this well researched and well written article.
    Please continue on this subject, if it is possible, about what can we do when we recognize pride and lack of Humility in ourselves, where should we start?
    Pride manifests in many ways in my characters. I don’t listen to anybody, I think I know better, I am confused about my capabilities, I am not discreet, and it goes on and on… but I really want to change, so I want to know, where to start? How to start?

  7. Joe Jul 07, 2012 9:15 pm 7

    The humility articles have made me come to very important realizations about myself. It has become clear to me that I almost always use the “external modest behavior” as a tool to compensate for my fear of rejection which is a dreadful combination of a lack of self-confidence and wanting to be right all the time. As a matter of fact, I am so afraid of not being “right”, that I make sure I am the first person to criticize myself; an act that mainly comes across to others as being disarmingly modest. I was so ignorant of the reality of my state that I even sometimes actually believed that I was being humble! However, the fact of the matter is that I am so prideful that I cannot even allow myself to wholeheartedly accept that I am wrong. So, the next question is how do I correct myself?
    In the past, many great saints and sages performed difficult ascetic practices and even gave up all material ambitions in order to cultivate humility within. My understanding is that Ostad Elahi’s teachings does not promote such practices, but based on his own writings and accounts of those who met him in person, Ostad himself was the very embodiment of the virtue of humility. I feel that achieving such balance is immensely more difficult that giving up material ambitions altogether. Since I personally have no plans to conduct ascetic practices or give up my material ambitions, I think perhaps the very first step for me is to concentrate on practicing thoughtful prayers throughout the day beginning with Ostad’s universal prayer (i.e page 231 of The Path of Perfection). I can only hope that the path to learning and assimilating the divine virtue of humility will unfold before me as I pay more attention to the Source throughout my daily activities.

  8. ia Jul 08, 2012 9:31 am 8

    I recall reading that lack of self-confidence and lack of self-esteem are another way of the imperious self to manifest itself. We must develop self-knowledge such that we can see that when we are too shy to speak in public or stay in the shadows, it is sometimes due to thinking very much of ourselves and thus not wanting to say anything or be noticed because either we feel what we would say or do would not be good enough (thus we think we should be very wonderful indeed and that only then should we share and put ourselves forward as others do all the time) and not wanting criticism. Or we actually think we are already better than others and thus don’t want to mix with them or don’t want to show them what we already know. I’m not sure of this analysis, but in my profession, some of the most capable people are the shiest and need much prodding to share with others. Their input is often very valuable, but they seem so afraid of judgment…so maybe they are thinking they’d rather not be judged than be judged badly. In a sense we are like that when we boast. We want to be accepted. To be admired, to be special.

    I’m not sure this analysis is correct, but I feel that I have both tendencies. I am very outgoing and extroverted despite my knowledge of my failings-thus another form of pride as I feel I should be loved and accepted despite all my failings. Then there is also a paralyzing fearful lack of self-confidence, that again I have noticed at work as being a manifestation of my desire to be someone so amazing and the fear and knowledge that I am just me…that I procrastinate and procrastinate and end up not getting any credit as I do not produce anything with self-confidence. It is my imperious self at that level inhibiting me from doing things, from progressing materially. Maybe spiritually also, we can be like this. And end up being paralyzed.

    I am realizing how once we start to think about pride, other character faults fall in and we see that there is always a bundle of things to look into and correct.

  9. A. Jul 08, 2012 4:23 pm 9


    First allow me to say that it is an excellent start. Recognizing one’s shortcomings ((=”I am confused about my capabilities, I am not discreet, etc..”) is the necessary first step. Now answering your question, there are different approaches. Let me describe a few of them:

    1. Work on criticisms. Try to contain the “inner rebellious fire” and anger triggered by criticisms, note down the criticisms, analyze them and if some of them are right, then work on them, in other words try to change your behavior accordingly

    2. Proactively ask your close/intimate friends to constructively criticize you and suggest ways you can improve your behavior. Then act on those criticisms that you think are right. Once I did this exercise and I was told I always talked about myself, I did not listen to others etc… Another time I was told I was very touchy, for instance if people did not call me back after I left them a voicemail or if people did not pay attention to what I said, I would quickly get vexed etc..

    3. Fight against negative thoughts; for instance, replace thinking about other people’s flaws with thinking about your flaws. For this exercise to be effective and to really internalize your flaws the best thing is to write down specific situations where your flaws manifested in an embarrassing way. Telling you self you are lazy or proud, will not have much on an effect.


    Based on my experience I have found out that if you work on your pride sincerely (for His satisfaction), with time (and His help), you mature a little and attract Divine therapies. This is when the “going gets tough”. I mean divine therapies are hard, they are a grace bestowed to really treat and heal an dysfunction/flaw. One needs to have matured a little bit to accept them (+ one needs His help big time!!). For instance I have suffered from a superiority complex for a long time and have been demoted at work several times. The more recent demotions have been longer, harder and in a way more spectacular (because I could bear more). They will stop (I am sure) when I will not care any longer. Another friend of mine ended up working with people who constantly criticized him – I mean not just one criticism once in a while, but constantly. Etc..

  10. A. Jul 08, 2012 5:10 pm 10


    Based on my experience I find this is so true! I suffered from this dilated and false image of myself for such a long time and I still suffer from it.

    As I already mentioned in my previous post (see previous article on Humility), to reduce my dilated ego the Source has used failures at work, namely demotions. I have had multiple (6) demotions over my professional career. The most recent one being also the most difficult to endure (and the worse one of them all just about to happen).

    When one is demoted, the major source of suffering comes from the thought of how others view us. One feels as if walking in the street only with an underwear in front of tens and tens of colleagues, customers, social relations etc… One suffers because others see things one would like to keep hidden. For instance, in my case, I am someone quite anxious, not very self-confident and being demoted is a clear sign one is not up to the job especially if those demoting you are renowned to be fair managers.

    If one does not quit one’s job, preferring unemployment over humiliation, and also if one tries to endure these experiences with a spiritual view fighting against bitter/pessimistic thoughts and viewing the whole experience as a divine therapy (hence working on gratitude for the divine therapy), then one’s dilated ego shrinks.

    One no longer feels superior to others or anyway special, is less sensitive to others’ attention and consideration, … etc.. I mean the outcome is incredibly positive. I feel so much better today then in the past because I have learnt to accept myself and suffer less from the incoherence between the artificial image I build of myself and the stimuli/inputs I get from my interaction with the external environment.

    Also, my relations with others are so much more normal. For instance, I had a friend who used to get on my nerves because I considered him a good-for-nothing… and also felt very superior to him (although I did not realize it). Now my relationship with him is very normal and affectionate.

    I have suffered (am still suffering) a lot because of these demotions which have/are increasing in intensity. The day I will no longer care they will stop. I am certain of this. To cope with the suffering, often I have asked for divine help whilst leafing through books on ethics and have found these 2 sentences which remain deeply impressed upon my memory

    1. « your pride is too important »

    2. « they have become enslaved by consideration and favors from others »

    With the help of these sentences and through autosuggestion, I have learned to better control suffering. I have started to identify spiritual and material advantages from these experiences. I have thus started telling myself that:

    A) what was happening to me was actually a treatment for this « dilated ego» which I was probably dragging along since my first life on earth (spiritual advantage) and then reducing this « illusory ego» was making me feel much better, even psychologically (material advantage)

    B) once I would have completely passed through the whole trial (of being serially demoted) I would have most likely become completely indifferent to others’ consideration (spiritual advantage)

    C) this indifference to others’ consideration would have opened up new possibilities, even material – such as a teaching role at university where, if one is sensitive to students’ admiration/respect one can become puffed up with pride (material advantage)

  11. A. Jul 08, 2012 6:08 pm 11

    @ MaryS


    Hoping it will be useful, I here below briefly show the (translated) answers posted on the French version of the site:

    « I am one of those who lack self-confidence and I have only recently begun to understand how this translates into pride… I refer to this form of pride as misplaced pride, because when referring to pride one immediately thinks of someone feeling superior to others and who tries to brag/boast, etc., however I believe there are other ways in which pride can show itself. For instance, someone lacking self confidence, can constantly seek others’ attention, be sensitive or even hypersensitive if not sufficiently considered…»

    « I have noticed that that if I am afraid or lack self-confidence, it is because I want to give the best possible picture of myself and to shine among others.»

  12. Aqua Jul 10, 2012 4:50 pm 12

    Pride can exist in those who lack self confidence in the way that they are afraid of making mistakes. They fear doing certain things or they claim they are not good enough because they don’t want to risk failing at anything at all. Thus, they try nothing at all. They avoid acknowledging their own strong points, but they also want to avoid validating their weaknesses. They preemptively claim inferiority. Before anyone else puts them down, they put themselves down. In reality, their pride may be so great that they believe they are too good for even trying to accomplish something. They internally feel superior and view the efforts necessary as not worth their time. They may even prefer not achieving something because they think they are too good to go through the struggle of reaching a goal, and too good to potentially “fail.” Perhaps not applicable to all, and of course there are varying degrees of this, but really you could lack self confidence or self esteem and still be swimming in the solvent of pride.

  13. jo Jul 10, 2012 6:48 pm 13

    Thanks for this enlightening article series. Based on this article, is it fair then to assume that the way to foster the development of true humility within is by actively struggling against the pride within? If yes, does anyone has any suggestions on how to do this?

  14. 11 Jul 12, 2012 2:23 am 14

    You explained the relation between pride and lack of confidence very well. Thank you

  15. Nell Jul 12, 2012 6:42 pm 15

    Thanks so much for your detailed explanation; I am currently working on a few very similar to your suggestions. I am blessed with a friend who criticizes me all the time without asking! But as much as I try not to get hurt when I hear her criticism, I get devastated (even cry over it) at first but after a while when I step back and try to think clearly about it, I can see she is right most of the time.
    Trying to overcome my pride is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

  16. 7 Jul 13, 2012 4:16 pm 16

    Please help me, I am confused….. I thought my lack of self esteem and self confidence is because I have been criticized growing up excessively, therefore, I tried to stay away from the one’s who criticizes me, in order to build up my self-confidence!
    Does it me I should do the opposite now?

  17. Noel Jul 13, 2012 4:50 pm 17

    I try to remember all of the opportunities that I have had in my life and say to myself that if others had been fortunate enough to have had these opportunities too, they would perform much better than I do. When I think this way, I immediately realize that have no reason at all to feel proud.

  18. re Jul 15, 2012 4:37 am 18

    While the daily practice of noticing whether or not we are able to accept criticism coming from others may be an excellent gauge of how humble we are, it is not, by itself, what makes us become more humble. I think that the growth of humility is directly proportional to the quality of our progress in the process of acquiring self-knowledge which itself is the direct result of the practice of divine ethical principles. Unfortunately, there is no magic humility elixir. We need to evaluate the symptoms objectively and come up with an effective treatment plan that does not just address the symptoms, but targets the disease itself.

    If I see the following symptoms in myself: 1- I have trouble accepting criticisms, 2- I refuse to see my own faults, 3- I refuse to seek advice, 4- I lack self-confidence and self-esteem, and 5- I hate to be told that I’m wrong, I may be suffering from a general deficiency in my efforts to practice divine ethical principles. This means that I may need to ramp up my efforts through a customized daily practical applications of divine ethical principles.

  19. Charlie Jul 16, 2012 12:54 am 19

    When I first read this article, things had been difficult for sometime and I had just failed at a very important interview and I had rarely felt as low as I was feeling in my self esteem and confidence. As a result of reading this article, I tried to examine my actions and thoughts and noticed my lack self confidence/esteem were linked to me placing too much value on what others think of me and too little value on what would make Him happy. The most amazing part of it was that I could see that this consubstantial pride is almost always the initial energy force behind my actions/thoughts unless I make a conscious effort to try to stop it. At the times my self-confidence is low, I can see that it is because I am evaluating my self worth in the context of mainly material values based on what others may be thinking of me. At these times if I manage to try to tear my attention away from the material value system and turn towards Him for help and try to put into practice the divine and ethical principles I have been reading about, I catch a small taste of what it could be like to be humble. It is not easy but at least it has meant I am trying. Thank you for such inspiring article.

  20. A. Jul 16, 2012 11:45 pm 20

    @7 (post 16)

    >Please help me, I am confused….. I thought my lack of self esteem and self confidence is >because I have been criticized growing up excessively, therefore, I tried to stay away >from the one’s who criticizes me, in order to build up my self-confidence!
    >Does it mean I should do the opposite now?

    I am not an expert but common sense indicates that criticisms coming from people who suggest changes to our behaviour because: a) we are wronging their rights b) they genuinly want to help us — are welcome. What may instead be detrimental to someone lacking self confidence are criticisms coming from someone who is trying to belittle us (for the sake of it), or to harm us, someone feeling jealous hence etc..
    Hope this answers your question

  21. A. Jul 16, 2012 11:53 pm 21

    @jo (post 13)
    >Thanks for this enlightening article series. Based on this article, is it fair then to assume >that the way to foster the development of true humility within is by actively struggling >against the pride within? If yes, does anyone has any suggestions on how to do this?

    The best approach (similar what post 18 suggests) is to practice, practice and practice again divine principles. When one practices, one also (often) fails. Then if one looks/analyses one’s mistakes, one’s pride tends to decrease

  22. k Jul 19, 2012 10:06 pm 22

    I will try to answer this question for myself:
    Why is pride the root of “… those who are shy, even those who are discrete, even—and perhaps even more—those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem”.?

    When one is shy, discrete or lacks self-confidence (I don’t know the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem), one is afraid of being *humiliated*(=our pride breaks)[1]. I guess it is the psychological self or our earthly dimension that gets humiliated. Because being humiliated hurts, one develops the characters mentioned above[2].
    In a sense being shy, too discrete or lacking self-confidence is to *withdraw* from society- in order to avoid being humiliated- which in turn is against Natural Spirituality (Reference for that one must live actively in society: see for example The Path of Perfection, chapter 20).

    Are these (social) humiliations good for our true Self? Well I think the correct answer must be yes (in most occasions). I still think maybe one needs to evaluate each case separately and take some other factors into account (e.g. defending ones right).
    Anyway, so we can conclude as a general rule of thumb, that we must get out there, in society, and get humiliated. And this in turn is related to performing our duties.

    Another interesting thing in the article was the use of *social virtue* which we can relate to the fact that “Divine Spirituality is an internal matter, and not a superficial undertaking…”[3].

    [1] Can one say that “pride breaks” in English?
    [2] I am actually not sure if the precise mechanism works in this way and the issue is perhaps more complicated.
    [3] Path of Perfection, page 112. Divine Spirituality is written in bold, defined in the Glossary.

  23. adissam Jul 19, 2012 11:44 pm 23

    Society can be a rich and fruitful experience to learn and progress.

    I personally do not wish to endure humiliating or difficult situations. Yet, since I know that this life is temporary, I first do my best efforts to adopt a noble attitude in every situation and if a painful event occurs then I ask what should I adjust, what is the lesson for me.

    I notice that the Golden rule is a great exercise to begin with.
    From my experience, practicing it can avoid most of those difficult situations you describe.

  24. 7 Jul 20, 2012 2:26 pm 24

    @ A.
    Thank you! Very good points, It does answer my question.

    I know as K mentioned “every case should be evaluates separately and take other factors in to account”. However, this raises another question for me!
    How can we get to the point where if others belittle us (for the sake of it, out of jealousy, in order to harm us, etc.), it does not affect us? Is that a virtue?
    A. and anyone else may know the answer please!

  25. 723 Jul 27, 2012 9:03 pm 25

    Thanks A and others for your responses,
    It is true that “lack of self esteem” might stem from being too prideful to handle criticism or being humiliated. But this might not be the case for everyone. Some people can handle criticism and even humiliation well. Also one should defend themselves in the case of actual humiliation, if the situation calls for it.

    Having said this, I am more inclined to think that lack of self-esteem is opposite of courage. Courage like humility is a virtue upon itself and although there is probably an overlap between the two, courage and humility are still different virtues.
    That is one can be courageous but humble or prideful. And one can be prideful but lack courage (which I believe has more to do with lack of self-esteem).

    I know there are connections between these concepts, but if someone lacks self-esteem, I believe the solution lies more in being courageous. At least that is how I have experienced these things and other people’s experience might differ.

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