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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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!