We've all heard it:
"Wow, you're really humble."
"I know. It's my greatest strength."
Humility is a unique characteristic in that it belongs in a special class of qualities most everyone wants, but almost no one has. Much of modern-day culture lends itself to making humility difficult. During job interviews, we are more or less there to flaunt our accolades or accomplishments in order to gain that upper edge on our competitors who are, for all intents and purposes, less accolade-y and accomplish-y. A lot of social interactions tend to circle around what you've done, who you are, and why people should care. So much so that, what we're seeing more and more is people starting conversations with their accomplishments. Far gone are the days where no one would even mention them unless they were asked first.
Several years ago, I had a lengthy conversation with a friend who began almost every sentence with or with some variation of, "I was just talking about [insert topic here] with [insert name here] from my [insert graduate level class here]," regardless of whether or not the topic at hand had anything to do with whatever class he brought up. For whatever reason, it riled me up a little bit inside. If we're talking about Pokemon, for example, why does it matter that you had this conversation during your upper-level fluid mechanics class?
But that's just the thing, isn't it? I think we've collectively developed this pseudo-humility where we subconsciously bring up our accomplishments, achievements, or status in a totally-not-bragging way. Subtlety is key here. I mean, it would fly right under our noses unless we carefully attuned ourselves to it. After all, this friend of mine didn't say, "I'm in a graduate level thermodynamic anatomy and naval criminal psychology seminar doing a research project on how the mental stability of a person is directly related to how their body heats up liquid around them when committing underwater arson. Pikachu is pretty cool, huh?" That would be dumb. I felt dumb writing that.
It makes sense, somehow. We want to be humble, but we want to show people that we have our own set of successes, too. Eventually, that struggle tugs so much at our hubris that we entertain the idea of indirect bragging to satisfy our self-serving needs. But something that I have been thinking about a lot recently, and maybe something that a lot of people already have realized, is this: that the people who show the most humility are those who have the most to show off. It's an attitude, really.
In college, I also had another friend whom I met very early on during my first year. To me, he was (and still is) somewhat of a role model. All in all, he just seemed like a kind and genuine person. The only difference was that he was my small group leader. But I swear on my life, for the better part of the first year I knew him, I honestly did not know anything about him. It was only near the end of my freshman year that I learned about just how intelligent and talented he really was (and still is). (If you're reading this, yes, it's you!!! No, not you, him.)
And as I was thinking about this topic, I immediately went to this friend of mine as a sort of personable representation of what I thought humility looked like. To me, humility looks like walking eye-level with a giant. It isn't overbearing, nor is it overwhelming. True humility is, in some ways, vulnerability. As C.S. Lewis said, "true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." Be open to new ideas, new people, new things. Perhaps just take a step back and observe. Maybe just be a person. Not a somebody, not a nobody, just.. uh... I didn't think this one through... monobody?
Recognize that at the end of the day, you are just a talking butt. Wait. That's not what that quote means. Oops.