Guest columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Staying real, remaining humble

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz


Published: 05-02-2024 9:07 PM

Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the importance of cultural humility. At that time, I knew that my next column would focus on its twinned counterpart, personal humility. Today, I’ll focus on why maintaining an understanding of ourselves in perspective helps to sustain our larger sense of history, community, and life in context.

Personal humility imparts a sense of self- and other-awareness, and the knowledge and wisdom that, as individuals, we are not the be-all and end-all of anything and everything. In these precarious and challenging times, it’s far more important to engage collaboratively without ego front and center than to try to find and take credit for one’s own accomplishments. True humility is about learning to lay low in terms of individual status and stature and look instead to find ways to uphold the gifts and achievements of others.

When we feel confident and competent within ourselves, there is no need to exclaim as such. I believe we can be more — and most — effective in our good works, our right relationships, and our personal and professional lives when we choose to focus on what is most meaningful: bringing happiness, joy, and love to others around us, rather than directing others’ attention to ourselves.

Self-confidence and competence are quiet forms of self-awareness and growth. We build them through effort, determination, intentionality, and internal discipline. These are real gains over the arc of our lifespan. I look to share myself with others without proclaiming my goodness — it’s there and present in my actions and words, and hardly needs to be expressed in ways that draw attention to me.

Why is being and remaining humble important? How does humility serve the world, our communities, and ourselves? One way to respond to these queries is to think about what has happened in our country and others where leaders and former leaders proclaim that they are totally and uniquely omnipotent and that the world revolves around them.

This way of being is in complete contradiction to the humility we have witnessed with other prominent individuals, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others from earlier eras and cultures. Each of these individuals made conscious and conscientious decisions not to draw attention to themselves, but rather their principles and convictions. Perhaps that is why they each accomplished so much for so many.

Honesty, truth, and kindness permeate humility. Ego, power, and force are at the forefront when one is for oneself first and foremost. If one cares most about directing others’ attention and energies toward the betterment of the world, writ both large and small, their orientation will emphasize the importance of others and the significance of action, service, and policy rather than bloviation.

Other terms I consider within the concept and practice of humility include gratitude, empathy, care, respect, and support — all actions and attitudes that acknowledge the presence and essence of other people.

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American author Rick Warren writes, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” On a similar note, C. Joybell C., poet and author of “The Sun is Snowing,” writes ” … be careful not to mistake insecurity and inadequacy for humility! Humility has nothing to do with the insecure and inadequate, just like arrogance has nothing to do with greatness!”

When things are tough, such as conflict, war, the breaking of hope and trust, and so much more, humble people think, speak, and act on the basis that a positive result is good for others, even if it may feel like a sacrifice or compromise themselves. This doesn’t mean that success and excellence is unimportant; it means that putting one’s own name in front of said success is unnecessary and inappropriate.

In terms of right and daily action and activity, humility is offering the last slice of pie to another without drawing attention to ourselves for doing so; it is giving credit for a successful endeavor to others rather than claiming it for oneself; it is to eschew making statements that put oneself first or above others.

In a word, the “me” becomes “we.” We each have numerous opportunities every day to put humility into place and practice in our lives so that we can truly appreciate the goodness and greatness of those known and unknown to us for their meaningful acts to help others in need.

To me, humility is knowing one’s place in the world, staying real, and striving for whatever one considers “success,” and not pursuing fame and self-aggrandizement. To be humble is an evolving process in life, for each and all of us, without losing ourselves to be more or better than others or strive for perfection within ourselves.

It is an art and a practice and is never wholly achieved and complete but something well worth our efforts to develop and maintain. I believe it is easier to be at peace and content with oneself when humility is present more so than attaching importance of self to good and meaningful work and relationships.

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz is a developmental and intercultural psychologist who has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at