Humility protects us from the fall that usually comes with the ‘hubris’ that follows success:
Therefore a good general effects his purpose and stops.
He dares not rely upon the strength of arms;
Effects his purpose and does not glory in it;
Effects his purpose and does not boast of it;
Effects his purpose and does not take pride in it;
Effects his purpose as a regrettable necessity;
Effects his purpose but does not love violence.
(For) things age after reaching their prime.
That (violence) would be against the Tao.
And he who is against the Tao perishes young. (Tao Te Ching)
Humility is the hallmark of the man or woman, leader or not, who has matured in wisdom enough to realise these things. He is secure in himself and feels no need to put himself forward, to take credit, or to ‘blow his own trumpet’. He sees himself as only a part of a larger design and knows that every person in that design has an equally important role to play. He is content to play the role that falls naturally to him.
What each person does is never insignificant. The blade of grass needs all its energy to draw subsistence from its roots, simply to grow there, where it is, in the grass; it doesn’t strive vainly to be a banyan tree; and thus the earth obtains its charming green carpet. (Rabindranath Tagore)
Humility makes us approachable by others and we are not afraid of appearing weak by saying ‘I don’t know’ or by asking questions. We have no inflated ego to protect. Sincerity, truth and openness are the order of the day and we receive all the benefits that come with them.
Not only the Tao Te Ching but all philosophies and religions espouse the merits of humility. Meister Eckhart, a famous thirteenth-century German preacher, even went this far:
If you become humble, God descends from his home and flows into you.
… Therefore humility is the root of all good and all that comes with it.
… All things must necessarily be accomplished in the truly humble man. He does not need to ask God, he can command God, because the height of divinity is nothing less than the depth of humility…
The humble man and God are one; the humble man is master of God as well as himself, and everything possessed by angels is in the nature of the humble man; what God does, the humble man does also, and what God is he is: one life and one being; that is why our Lord has said: “Learn from me that I am gentle and humble in spirit”. (Mathew XI-29).
A piece of humble pie anyone?