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Opinion | Honest humility: the attractive virtue is necessary for an honest, fulfillling life

By Timothy Mersch
On October 2, 2012

We've all been there: we got an "A" on that really hard test, got accepted into this or that program or accomplished something we didn't think we could. We honestly feel like our hearts are going to burst out of our chests and fly off to circle the moon a few times. We run home and tell everyone we can the good news, either in person, on the phone or to the pulpit of our egos on Facebook. "Guys, guess what I just did!" What I just did. If we had our day, we'd have people think that we came in to being, were raised and educated by ourselves. This, we know, is not the case.

Now, we should be proud of our accomplishments. And it's healthy to have good self-esteem and a good self-image, especially if we can look to our past deeds upon which it is built. I'd even wager to say that it's possible to be proud of our successes without being considered overly arrogant and pompous. However, there's a certain element of attractiveness-not strictly speaking of a sexual attractiveness-that lies in the virtue of humility. But first let's define humility: the mean between self-abasement and arrogance. Humility could be defined as being honest with ourselves. Did I accomplish something good? Yes. Did I do it by myself? Most of the time, it's no. If we're being honest with ourselves we don't do much without the help of our family, friends, teachers or mentors. This is why St. Augustine says, "humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance."

The truth is attractive, as it appeals to our intellects. That's why we like certain subjects in school and get excited about learning (admit it, we all have that subject that we're nerds about!). That's also why it disgusts us when someone we trust lies to us and breaks that trust. It's that honesty, and that recognition of the truth in them that makes the person so attractive to us-for truth is attractive. The British writer C.S. Lewis said, "true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." In essence, humility is having an honest and altruistic worldview.

We've all met that person who fits this description. Maybe it's that beautiful girl who seemingly doesn't know how great she is. Maybe it's that athlete, who when asked how he scored the winning goal, points to his teammates and coach and says he couldn't have done it without them. The most recent person that I've met who embodied humility was a white-haired Catholic priest back in Chicago this summer. He actually turned out to be a very influential writer with his Ph.D., but was so down to earth, friendly and humble that I didn't know how big of a deal he was until a friend filled me in on him afterwards. Whoever it is, it's an attractive trait. We just want to be around that person and praise them for their great humility (which, of course, would make them just a little uncomfortable).

If we look at celebrities and public figures, we judge them the same way. Most of us have a disdain for people like Kanye West, who may be the embodiment of modern arrogance, with his infamous press-grabbing shenanigans on and offstage and self-absorbed lifestyle. In contrast, I think we'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thought of Mother Teresa in the same way, who for years went about her work, serving the poorest of the poor, without seeking public recognition or esteem. Mother Teresa makes working with the world's poor (the complete opposite of our modern culture's message of "get the most money the fastest way possible" look like an attractive concept! When we read articles or see films about her, we want to imitate her. Not the case though with Kanye West.

This attractive virtue of humility is all but lost within our materialistic, "me-first" culture. What a great impact would it be if we just stopped thinking of ourselves for a minute? What if we stepped outside ourselves and saw, not in a bad way, but honestly how small we are? That's not to say we can't do anything, but that in better terms, we can't do anything alone. That, I think, is the true meaning of humility. We need something greater than ourselves and that is the truth.


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