Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 June 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Life, a long lesson on humility

Long years ago, I spent a weekend holiday in Ohiya with a friend whose father was stationed there as a Government official. Just after the dinner, in the first night all of us came out of the house for a short walk. To walk in a near-freezing temperature was an exhilarating experience for me. It was such breath-taking panoramic view of the surroundings and the big sky. The stars were as big as Chrysanthemum and, to my city-trained eye, almost frighteningly close. I was moved by what I supposed was humility to say, “Doesn’t it make you feel insignificant?”

A good employer will listen carefully for suggestions from his employees. That is the quality of his humility.

“No,” my friend’s mother answered, “Only grateful to be born in such a beautiful universe.” There was amusement in her tone, but I saw that she was laughing gently at my fuzzy notion of humility. I realised that day it was not the job of humility to make us feel small, but to expand our capacity for appreciation, awe and delight; to stand silent before all that we do not know and then to get on the work of finding out.

Ego balancer

Today, 35 years later, I understand better the meaning of humility better. It is something like a built-in ego balancer. It makes sure that we don’t think too highly of ourselves or too negatively of ourselves. As a slogan from Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “The challenge is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less often.” Humility means not putting yourself either above or below others; it means not thinking about your position on a scale.

Yet, for some, humility so often seems vaguely desirable but not really attractive. You can’t get ahead, we’re told, unless you promote yourself, take centre stage, and claim all the credit for success, even if this means climbing on the backs of your co-workers. Humility sounds somewhat incommutable with today’s intellect and vigorous spirit.

But, in reality, the reverse is true. The figures we commonly hail for their humility - Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, Gandhi and Einstein - were never timorous souls, but men of strong destiny with a fierce determination to carry it out. Humility about a quiet confidence. It’s about being content to let others discover the layers of our talents without having to boast about them.

Humility comes naturally to some people but usually it needs to be learned.

We become humble by being around humble people and by consciously acknowledging that we are not Number one.


One story that drives home the importance of humility is of Zavere Poonawala of Puna, India. He was an industrialist and one of the richest people in India. He had a faithful driver named Ganga Datt who worked for him for 30 years. When Datt passed away, Poonawala was in Mumbai for some business negotiations.

As soon as he heard the news, he cancelled all his meetings, and returned immediately to Pune by hiring a helicopter. He requested his personal staff to decorate his limousine with flowers and visited Datts family to pay his respects. He then humbly requested that the family use his limousine to carry the body to the cemetery. When Datt’s family agreed to his wishes, he himself drove his ex-driver on his last journey.

When asked about it, Poonawala replied that Ganga Datt had faithfully served him day and night for 30 years, and the least he could do now was to reverse the roles for at least for a little time and show his gratitude to him. He said that Ganga Datt rose up from poverty and educated both his children very well and that is so commendable.(What he did not say was that he sponsored the education of both children).

“Anybody can earn money, and there is nothing unusual in that. But we should always be grateful to those people who contribute to our success. This is the belief, we have been brought up with, which made me do, what I did.” He said.

Good deed

The ideal world would be filled with inspirational stories like the one above. People who have clear goals set for their life and are working on achieving them. These people know how important it is to be humble because they know that it takes more than just one person for anything to happen - they know that it is better to help out those around them than to isolate themselves with their possessions or money.

I was once an officebearer of a local NGO handling social work. We invited one of the well-known social workers to deliver a speech on the value of humility in modern society. It was scheduled to be held in the evening at the front lawn of our office. We planned for a long-laid table of sandwiches, short eats and tea/coffee but were not comfortable with the weather forecast. So we got a local restaurant to provide a pack of short eats and a milk pack. Event went on smoothly without any weather disturbances.

The humble teacher never judges; he never condemns. He respects the differing opinions of children.

After the event when everyone had left, the speaker came down from the stage, and along with us, began collecting all the papers and empty cups and boxes that had blown about, and disposed of them in a litter bin. It told me more than about him than a whole barrage of questions might have. Humility doesn’t ask what the decent thing to be done is; it does the decent thing by instinct and without fuss.


It takes equanimity to view another’s good and not be swayed off course either by envy or by admiration. The next-door child who is plainly superior to one’s own child, the man who is elected chairman when you were in line for it, the team-mate who keeps walloping sixes over the pavilion when you were in a slump - life is filled with such events, and it takes genuine humility to keep them in perspective, nether too high nor too low.

In essence, humility is poise. Nobody is perfect - can you imagine what a boring world that would be if they were? We are all human and we will all make mistakes, have imperfections and need the help of others from time and again. These are not defects on our part as a human - they are the very things that make us human. Each one of us should embrace them and use them to help us learn and grow not only as a person, but also as a co-operative member of an imperfect world!


Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Youth |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2014 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor