Humility is a character trait most of us tend to admire about another person. Ideally, it comes from the recognition that a great deal of rewards, honors and riches we accumulate over time are not necessarily due to our actions, but acknowledging that they are the results of chance, endowments over which we have no personal control, such as intelligence, good looks, being born into wealth, being in the right place at the right time, or the efforts of others, rather than just our own. Even the so called self-made man, if he is honest with himself, has to admit that external factors outside of his own control have played roles in his success.

Clearly, not everyone has the insight and honesty to recognize the above truths. Those that have the grace to do so receive our favor. Yet others wear a cloak of false modesty, claiming humility in order to be recognized and well thought of by society: the so called humble bragger.

There are elements of humor used by some with regards to this trait. Witness the politician who  said, “My opponent is a very humble man who has a great deal to be humble about.” Or there is the cartoon that shows a guy lying on the road with a caption: “Always encumbered with a sense of low self-esteem, Bob gets a job as a speed bump.” These are false ideas of humility. You don’t exaggerate it, you don’t put it down.

Sometimes humility comes from the recognition of the truth that many of us have gotten a far better deal than what we deserve at the expense of fairness and justice to everyone else. Once we recognize this, it behooves us to do something for others to help even the scales.

There is no one like family or a child to help keep you humble, as they are the first to point out that the emperor has no clothes. They are not afraid to call you on the things you say, and they have great built in B.S. detectors. I still remember calling my dad after doing my first delivery in medical school to have him wryly ask, “What would have happened if you hadn’t been there?”

Humility is the trait that allows us to recognize that despite all our personal and accumulated knowledge, there is so much we don’t know, and that what we think we know turns out not infrequently to be wrong. It’s the essential part of the self-correcting mechanism that allows us to learn and grow.

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