Grounded: The Virtue of Humility

17 Jun 2014 by gebhard, 1 Comment »

free_rock_stone_stock_by_aelathen-d6rxcrfWhat does a person do to exhibit the Virtue of Humility?

Looking back at people who play sports, it seems the players who do not brag, the ones who don’t over exaggerate their accomplishments, show Humility. While bragging is a visible action against Humility, the virtue itself is much deeper.

Merriam-Webster defines Humility as “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people”. This is the modern and common way of explaining this virtue.  I’m sure all of us have heard this before, at length.

This explanation is why I have never understood Humility. If I’m not better than someone, then I’m at the bottom of the stack. Everyone I meet is better than me? I didn’t need to think about that very long to see it isn’t true. You’re better than that, and so am I.  If I think I’m better than someone, can I still show Humility?

I think so. The dictionary definition is overly simplistic and, if pursued as a goal, would lead to the complete destruction of self.

The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”. Grounded usually means you see the world as it is. It’s out worldly look at things.  Is it much of a stretch to say being grounded means you see the world for how it is and also how you fit into it?

Pride can be thought of as the opposite of Humility and can lead you to believe your abilities and position are better than they really are, but if you can maintain a sober view of yourself, the world, and how they fit together, you can correctly evaluate every situation and the essential core of the virtue.

Let’s take a practical SCA example.

A Duke and a newly authorized fighter meet each other in a tournament. The new fighter does some crazy bizarro thing and hits the Duke.  In honorable combat, the proper response would be to accept the blow. Pride suggests that no new fighter could possibly land such a blow, therefore, it must be light. Humility drives us to accept reality, to honor ourselves, our foe and our game and to accept the blow. In essence, the new fighter was the better fighter in this one brief moment.

Sir Roman Llull, a Spanish Knight who wrote “The Book of the Order of Chivalry” points out, if your prideful thoughts fill you, then it is unlikely you can gain a full understanding of your situation. You will be knocked off your horse, taken captive and “the strength of someone else’s body has overcome the pride of your haughty heart.”

Sir Llull also teaches, Humility must be combined with Fortitude to hold Pride at bay. Pride is like a bubble in a glass of water, always working its way to the top, and we all must be ever vigilant lest it get the best of us.

Humility offers a sober view of the situation at hand, and the part it is we are to play in it.

One of the things I like most about honorable combat is that it will show us our weaknesses and our strengths, and the path to improve them both.

The virtue of Humility is complex. In my opinion, its core is your understanding of just how you fit in, what your skills and abilities actually are at this moment, and being able to accept that, from time to time, you’ll have a reminder of just where you’re are, no matter what you have done in the past. If you can accept that graciously, without excuse or complaint, then you too will show Humility.

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One Comment

  1. Malcolm Mor says:

    I once heard a knight define humility by saying that only a humble man may be taught; someone who was not humble, be they high or low, felt that they had nothing further to learn.

    It was a great privilege for HRH Cadogan to name me a champion along side of you this past Push. Well fought, and I was honored that you and the others accepted me as your leader for the day’s fighting.

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