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4 Stupid Substitutes for Humility

humblebragWhen Ben Franklin turned 20, he was determined to become virtuous. He put together a list of 12 virtues (frugality, sincerity, justice, etc.), and worked out a system of regularly focusing on one virtue a week while tracking his progress as he went.

He showed his finished list of values to a minister who pointed out that Franklin was missing humility—the queen of all virtues. Ben added it to the list bringing the total to 13.

After spending many months working on the virtues, Franklin’s friend asked how he was doing with humility. Franklin responded, “I can’t boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

If you’re acting humble, you’re not

Virtues are a lot like garments; you can put them on on without owning them. It’s tricky because we don’t just fool the people around us by playing dress up—we fool ourselves.

Humility’s much easier to manufacture than it is to internalize, and as long as we’re more focused on humility’s appearance, we’ll never experience its transformation.

So what’s humility?

Scripture’s packed with references to humility (something God honors), and most of the time it’s used as an antonym for pride (something God despises).

The classic C. S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity is a helpful place to start:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Humility’s simplicity is what makes it so damned difficult. It’s simply thinking about, promoting the interests of, and celebrating others more than yourself.

Instead of focusing on others, we tend to promote, celebrate, and focus on ourselves with a little self-depreciating twist to give the appearance that we really don’t take ourselves that seriously.

4 things that aren’t humility

1. The humble brag

I use to work with this guy who’d say things like, “My wife’s always telling me that people think I’m weird and socially awkward because I use professor-like vocabulary words instead of talking like a normal person.”

Let me translate that for you: “Folks think I’m weird, BECAUSE I’M SO DAMN SMART!”

A humble brag is the delightful technique of saying something awesome about yourself, but washing it down with a chaser of faux-criticism or depreciation.

Only one person in a group can never seem to recognize a humble brag, and that’s the person who’s using it. They’re too busy trying to force feed you a spoonful of their awesomeness.

2. Most uses of the word “humbled”

When I had my first viral blog post, I was a bit of a jackass. It was such a big surprise and I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way that didn’t seem awful. So instead of just talking about it, I would post screen shots and stats and say ridiculous things like, “I’m so humbled that so many people are reading my blog today.”

I wasn’t so humbled about it—that was complete nonsense. I was excited. And you know what? That’s okay. What’s not okay is putting on some false sense of humility in order to draw attention to myself.

Now whenever I hear someone tell me how humbled they are, I recognize it for the B.S. it is. (Also, I can’t read “I’m so humbled” without hearing it in Jeremy Iron’s Scar voice.) Just tell me about the awesome thing you’re experiencing so I can celebrate with you.

3. Not taking a compliment

Newsflash: Humble people can take a compliment.

It’s funny to see someone spend an hour doing their hair and picking out an outfit to see them respond to a compliment on their appearance with, “Oh, stop. I look hideous.”

One’s inability to take a compliment (even if they’re sincere) is more about pride than it’s about humility.

Humble people have strengths, positive qualities, and nice outfits. It’s okay. Say thank you and move on.

4. Giving the glory to the Lord

Sometimes when you compliment a Christian on a job well done they’ll give you this kind of response, “Oh, that was just the Lord working through me” or “All the glory goes to the Lord.”

This is the Christian mash-up of not taking a compliment and holy humble bragging. It’s the worst kind of religiosity because it passes off the compliment while doubling down on self-righteousness.

By acknowledging  your gifts, you glorify the Lord. Humility doesn’t parade around in the skinny jeans of false piety.

Truly humble people are amazing to be around. Want to be like them? Start by looking for ways to celebrate the awesomeness of others and stop looking for a way to promote your own.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Becky #

    I loved everything written here. Especially the “It’s simply thinking of, promoting the interests of, and celebrating others more than yourself.” I might have to put that on the forehead of my heart to remember. But I especially enjoyed the last part. Giving God the glory. Right. Okay. I get it, people. Really. Can we maybe start giving God the glory behind closed doors and in secret with Him and then emerge with a holy vengeance. In humility of course 🙂

    July 21, 2014
  2. So how *do* we give God glory? Will you tackle that in another blog post?

    July 21, 2014
    • I think it’s more about our posture than it is our words. We give God the glory in the way we live not just by blowing it off when someone compliments the special music you did at church.

      When you recognize that the gifts you have are provisional and live in a way that those gifts are a blessing to others people can see what you do and glorify God because of your giftings.

      July 21, 2014
  3. Point No. 4 really strikes me the most. I’ve heard people claim God working through them when they scored a touchdown or wrote something beautiful, but I never got the mindset behind it. Why not acknowledge when you did something well and then give thanks to God in prayer when you’re alone? Is your action more noteworthy because you mentioned God and someone else with the same achievement didn’t?

    Great post. I wonder if you’re going to any more on the Seven Deadly Sins walkthrough.

    July 21, 2014
    • I am in the middle of a post on wrath. Don’t worry! I’ll see it through. . . maybe.

      July 21, 2014
  4. I’ve used, “I was so humbled by” way too many times. Many times I just mean that I was embarrassed because I don’t know how to take a compliment because I spend so much time worrying about what everyone thinks of me.
    I’d love to knock this phrase on its head and just say, “I was so humiliated when…”

    July 22, 2014
  5. My God I have been the Humble Bragger 😦

    July 22, 2014
  6. ctotheb #

    So good! I feel like so many people say “I’m humbled” when they really wanna say “I’m awesome!” Gotta keep it real.

    July 28, 2014
  7. Though there is much food for thought here, and overall I agree with the point and purpose, some parts of this left me a bit uneasy. First of all, you seem to be judging the intentions and attitudes of any & all speakers with the generalized tone of the article. There have been times when I’ve (for direct testimony) been excited about the response of others to something I have had a hand in and other times it was truly humbling because it was so unexpected or surprising. So I think the greater point is for people, Christians or not, who want to embrace humility is to stop and evaluate using “I’m humbled…” and like phrases to be sure that it is authentic- truly describes what they feel and want to convey. I don’t think the phrase should be thrown out of our vernacular but that is what can be conveyed in an article written this way. The same goes for #4. When are we to give God glory? I agree that most of us have a hard time just saying thank – you, but glory does have to go to God pretty much all of the time- especially when one has prayed to be a vessel, for success, impact etc. and it happens. Humility can be elusive, but the Bible wouldn’t tell us to clothe ourselves with it if it were impossible. I find inspiration in the CS Lewis quote. And as Christians it seems that if we follow Jesus’ path, “look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others” in all things, we will venture into the realm of humility more steadily. Like wisdom, humility is hard to know if you have. But faith in doing things God’s way, examining our motives & intentions, and having truth-tellers in our lives can help us not to think so much about whether or not we are being humble and allow us to exhibit true humility whether we know it or not. Those are my humble thoughts. ;-).

    July 29, 2014
    • Thanks for the response, Andrea. To write a small article that anyone is willing to read, one can’t cover all contingencies and possibilities for misunderstanding. So, it’s best to cut through the noise by speaking plainly and strongly. Of course this doesn’t (and can’t) speak to every issue or person in God’s vast world, so, as with anything, you take what you can from it and spit out the bones.

      Thanks for your response.

      July 29, 2014
  8. Felt a little burn in the chest while reading this. I’ll take ALL the freedom. Yes please!

    August 1, 2014
  9. “By acknowledging your gifts, you glorify the Lord. Humility doesn’t parade around in the skinny jeans of false piety.”

    I love this line! I have totally been that guy at one point, who, at hearing a compliment said, “oh, it’s the Lord through me… nothing I did” and I still felt yucky after saying it. I love that we can receive a compliment and simply say, “Thank you that’s encouraging” and the Lord can still receive all the glory. Great article!!

    August 20, 2014

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