Sweet, sweet freedom.

In my last entry, I mentioned that it sometimes seems we're all trying to save someone else.  I often hear people say "Well, they're my parents/boyfriend/teacher/milkman, I have to."

I myself struggle to let others struggle on their own paths.  It's certainly a difficult thing to watch.  However, you know that if you cut a butterfly from it's cacoon in an effort to free it, it will certainly suffer the consequences of your well-intentioned assistance.

Here's one of my favorite parables about

Collapse )

Never give up! Always let go!

Raised southern baptist, I missed out on all of the profound wisdom contained in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.  An engineer from India turned me onto the sutras online one day at work, and I've been enraptured ever since.  If you're curious, pick up Reverend Jaganath Carrera's book.  It is sure to change your life forever.

In Christianity, we're informed that distraction leads to death.  (Re: Screwtape letters)   I believe this is true.  However, telling me what NOT to do is only provoking if you leave me wondering what the positive alternative is.

One of my favorite sutra illustrations:

Collapse )

Life in Lubbock, Texas has taught me two things. One is that God loves you and you're going to hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.
-Butch Hancock

A New Baby!

My cousin is having a baby, so I went looking to see what day the soul enters the body, in correspondence with the first release of DMT in the brain, and I found this blog: Dark Room Meditation.  I'm running late as usual (hence this poor writing), but I must read it the first chance I have!

The soul, I decided, enters the body on the 49th day, btw.  7 weeks!


There are two rules for using joy to chart a course for your own North Star.

Rule 1: If it brings you joy, do it.
Rule 2: No, really.  If it brings you joy, do it.

In fact, if the only thing you ever did was fill your life with the people, things, and activities that bring you genuine joy, you’d find your own North Star almost immediately.

Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Suppose I ask you to imitate an animal you’ve never heard of, like the Australian echidna (if you know all about echidnas, just play along and pretend you don’t.)  To help you with your imitation, I show you a tiger.  Then I tell you – this is true – that an echidna is nothing like a tiger.  Now, based on only this information, do your echidna imitation.  Go ahead, I’m waiting.

This is the same type of problem many people face when they try to zero in on joy – real joy.  They’re attempting to act out something they have never really seen or felt.  They know what they don’t want – quiet desperation, boredom, perpetual low-grade anger, or outright despair – but that doesn’t really help them know what they do want.
Pleasure and suffering are antithetical; joy and suffering are not.  Anyone who’s felt the pain of bearing a child, or pushed past the physical limits in some athletic event, or struggled to learn difficult but powerful truths understands that suffering can be an integral part of the most profound joy.  In fact, once the suffering has ended, having experienced it seems to magnify the capacity to feel pleasure and delight.

When I ask extraordinarily successful and happy people to tell me about their experience of joy, they always talk about it as something that includes the painful aspects of living, as well as the pleasurable ones.  Justin, a carpet and amateur poet, said “Joy happens when you finally fall in love with the whole span of life, even the parts that hurt.  Your love for yourself and others, for the whole process of life and growth and loss and death is so strong it somehow illuminates your suffering and pain.  In the end, it’s all joyful.”

This kind of joy, the kind that runs deep and broad, requires facing and mastering all the painful experiences we’ve discussed in the previous sections.  It means making yourself stand and face the things you fear long before you’ve had a chance to develop courage; allowing grief to wash over you when you really think you’ll drown in it; channeling rage into compassionate action when you long to commit mayhem.  I hate that, but I’ve never found a way around it.  To be a true hedonist, to chart your course by joy, you need a strong moral center and some serious guts.

I took this (in small excerpts) from “Finding Your Own North Star- Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” by Martha Beck.  She's funny, insightful, and super smart.  If you're looking for your path in life, I recommend her book.  :)

Purchase on Amazon
  • Current Music
    Nina Simone / I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl
  • Tags

Reality and the Bible

I went to Sunday School when I was a child.  The bible is like a big book of stories for grown ups, some that I don't understand, some that are boring, and a few parables that I reference often enough to claim the Christian title among my fellow "Christians," most of whom probably feel the same way.  I mentally see the big magic castle at Disney World when I say "Thine is the power, the kingdom, and the glory" in prayer.
Today I watched part of the A&E Special on Charles Manson on youtube.  Charlie's mom was a prostitute.  She put him in a bunch of homes, but he would always run away to go back to her.  She'd just have him locked up again.  Eventually he ran away so many times, stole a bicycle, broke into some grocery stores, and ended up doing some jail time, which is probably no big deal after the foster homes and boys' schools.
He attempted to illegally cash a $40 treasury check and did 7 of 10 years in the state pen for the federal crime.  By the time he was 32, he'd spent OVER half of his life in prison. 
So he gets out, partakes in the vices of the era (first LSD and flowers, then coke and paranoia-inspired violence) steals, pimps, and ends up killing a black drug dealer.  He assumed the guy was part of the Black Panthers, and that the whole gang was coming to kick his ass, so he had his hoes kill some famous white folks to illicit a race war and distract the Panthers from him.
So the question... is Charlie "evil?"  He did encourage those otherwise nice young ladies to cut an unborn baby out of Sharon Tate. 
Evil just means "outside of that which is GOOD and freely available to all people."  "Sin" is that thing that keeps you from obtaining those free fruits and pleasures of existance... 
Is it Charlie's "fault" that he's evil?  Are a certain percentage of humans from perfectly healthy parents just born antisocial baby rapists?  I think not.  Humans are the MOST dependent species at birth.  A human baby cannot survive without parents, and even humans abandoned at more mature stages of development show antisocial traits.  Charlie's parents did him a pretty serious disservice when it comes to finding the "good things in life."
I'd venture to say that every one of us is walking around with a big gap of confusion in our psyches that should have been filled by the honest and accurate communication from our parents about how the world works.  And so are our parents, so that's far from suprising.
We all try to make sense of it by filling that part of the world we don't understand with something that we think we DO understand.  We just want it to make sense.  Fill it with music, with sex, relationships, love, money, a career, a car.  Whatever, just plug it with something so you don't look like an ass; we all like to know what we're talking about, don't we?
Human beings are GOOD by nature.  I say this, because I know that I am.  I think that Adam and Eve had a perfectly good shot at being great parents with a solid view of reality who were capable of teaching and rearing "Godly" offspring.  ...So if people are good, why do we sin?
Humans are created with a thirst for knowledge.  So say Adam and Eve are chilling in Eden, and Luci comes around and says "Hey guys, I got these new pills.  They're FAR OUT.  You gotta try this."
Well, if I were Eve, I'd say... hell yeah, hook it up Luci.  I can't wait to see what's on the other side.
Well now, say these pills are similar to... heroin, or crack.  Suddenly I'm not really into raising my kids or whatever I was supposed to do with that square, Adam, today.  However, I CAN see the trees breathing.  This is awesome.  And the next thing you know, I have a bunch of antisocial kids running around who never had a mother.  Those kids can't properly raise kids, as evidenced by my parents who were conceived somewhere down the line: They're nice folks, but couldn't manage to plug this gap in my understanding of the world because they're obviously confused about it most of the time themselves.
So Adam says "Eve made me do it."  Eve says "The snake made me do it." And no one takes responsibility, but just tries to justify their actions and prove that they are "good!"  We feel a need to be good, a desire to be good, but the knowledge and shame that "holy shit, I am a fxck up" keeps us from ever really BEING good.  We try to hide our flaws, causing other people to be confused about us, and about themselves, and the next thing you know- HOLOCAUST!  It doesn't get any more real than that.
I'm not saying I've got it all figured out.  I'm just saying- Adam and Eve ate from the "Tree of Knowledge," and there's nothing magic about it.  It's real life, I see it manifested every day.  Now we can admit our confusion and find the truth, or keep lying and covering and being off and on miserable.  I bet there's some other revealing information in that big black book...

Wedding Poem (from The Prophet)

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

-Khalil Gibran, 1923 
  • Current Music
    Charles Mingus / Moanin'
  • Tags

Anais Nin / Winter of Artifice

His paternal role could be summed up in the one word: criticism. Never an élan of joy, of contentment, of approval. Always sad, exacting, critical, blue eyes.
Out of this came her love of ugliness, her effort to see beyond ugliness, always treating the flesh as a mask, as something which never possessed the same shape, color and features as thought. Out of this came her love of men's creation. All that a man said or thought was the face, the body; all that a man invented was his walk, his flavor, his coloring; all that a man wrote, painted, sang was his skin, his hair, his eyes. People were made of crystal for her. She could see right through their flesh, through and beyond the structure of their bones. Her eyes stripped them of their defects, their awkwardness, their stuttering. She overlooked the big ears, the frame too small, the hunched back, the wet hands, the webbed-foot walk... she forgave... she became clairvoyant. A new sense which had awakened in her uncovered the smell of their soul, the shadow cast by their sorrows, the glow of their desires. Beyond the words and the appearances she caught all that was left unsaid- the electric sparks of their courage, the expanse of their reveries, the lunar aspects of their moods, the animal breath of their yearning. She never saw the fragmented individual, never saw the grotesque quality or aspect, but always the complete self, the mask and the reality, the fulfillment and the intention, the core and the future, She saw always the actual and the potential man, the seed, the reverie, the intention as one...
Her love was based on faith in the purity of one's own nature. It made her oblivious of the deformities which could be produced in the soul by the wearing of a mask. It caused her to disregard the deterioration that might affect the real face, the habits which the mask could form if worn for a long time. She could not believe that if one pretended indifference long enough, the germ of indifference could finally grow, that the soul could be discolored by long pretense, that there could come a moment when the mask and the man melted into one another, that confusion between them corroded the vital core, destroyed the core...
This deterioration in her father she could not yet believe. She expected a miracle to happen. So many times it had happened to her to see the hardness of a face fall, the curtain over the eyes draw away, the false voice change, and to be allowed to enter by her vision into the true self of others.

Purchase on Amazon

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don' t
Because, sometimes, you won't.
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch.
You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.
And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...
...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That's not for you!
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don't.
Because, sometimes, they won't.
I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.
All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.
And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike
and I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.)
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
---Dr. Seuss

Bored? Depressed?

Boredom and depression are strongly related to one another, but the results of studies show that their relationship may be contingent on a third variable, namely one's sense of life meaning. Depression is currently recognized as a significant form of psychopathology; however for individuals presenting with both depression and boredom, it may be important for assessments and interventions to target their sense of meaning in life, which may be the "root cause" of both pathologies.


INPM Website

Here's an article from one of my FAVORITE organizations, The International Network on Personal Meaning and Meaning of Life:

I'm glad that I'm a nobody: A positive psychology of humility
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C. Psych.
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada

Everyone aspires to be somebody, and no one wants to be a nobody. From the depth of our souls, there is a persistent cry for personal significance. This universal search for meaning manifests itself in a variety of ways, from self-seeking to self-sacrifice. It seems that we are prepared to do anything to convince ourselves, if not the rest of the world, that we really matter and that our lives are worthwhile.

Unfortunately, most people are frustrated in their quest for significance. The present system of elitism and rankism only allows a select few to fulfill their aspirations. For example, many students are competing for admissions into prestigious professions, such as medicine, law and psychology, but only a small percentage are successful.

The baby-boomers represent another case in point. After years of struggle, most of them have found themselves stuck in their career tracks or displaced as a result of downsizing or mergers; and their dreams for success have become distant memories.

Once becoming members of the winners' circle, the insiders naturally want to maintain their hard-earned privileges by keeping others out as long as they can. The outsiders will continue to wage a battle to get in, to the extent that they remain driven by the desire to be somebody.

Is humility practical?

How do we practice the virtue of humility in such a competitive, winner-take-all world? Is humility practical? We can all agree that humility is an admirable quality in others, because we feel safe and comfortable around people who are meek and humble. But when it comes to ourselves, we may consider humility a hindrance to success and a by-product of failure.

How can anyone achieve success without ambition and a competitive spirit? Who does not feel elated and proud after accomplishing something great? Humility appears to be a foreign concept in a capitalist economy.

Perhaps, humility seems to make sense only when we find ourselves soundly defeated. Then, we can at least claim that we have learned the important virtue of humility, which is sorely lacking in others. Such self-consolation gives us the needed reprieve, until we are ready to get back on our feet to fight yet another battle.

However commonsensical and appealing, the above line of reasoning actually prevents us from achieving a deeper understanding of the virtue of humility. In this essay, I will attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions, present different perspectives of humility, consider its practical implications, and finally propose a positive psychology of humility.

Clarifying Some Misconceptions

The quest for significance vs. selfish ambition

The search for meaning and significance should not be confused with personal ambitions for worldly success. Meaning fulfillment can be achieved only through knowing who we are and becoming what we are meant to be.

A clear sense of identity cannot be found from external circumstances; it can only be built on the foundation of core values and beliefs, which define our selfhood. Similarly, a clear sense of purpose cannot be found from trappings of success; it can only be based on a deep conviction of our calling and mission in life.

According to Alfred Adler, selfish ambitions for fame, power and wealth are misguided, because in the end, they only lead to disillusion rather than fulfillment. The trappings of success never fill the inner void for meaning and significance.

Personal significance vs. pride

As well, the need for significance should not be confused with pride. Significance refers to a sense of one's self-worth and self-esteem. The belief that we are created in God's image provides a firm basis for personal significance. To love and to be love are also key ingredients of personal significance, which can be derived from a variety of sources. Humility comes naturally from the existential/spiritual perspective, because meaning fulfillment is primarily a gift, which comes from serving others and serving God.

Although pride appears to be a close cousin to personal significance, it has a very different origin. Pride is egotistic and destructive, contrary to the discovery of meaning.

Traditionally, Christians have considered pride as the root of human sins. For example, John Calvin considers pride the very essence of human depravity and rebellion against God. Pride feeds on elevating oneself over all others, including God. Eventually, pride leads to isolation and self-destruction, the natural consequence of having overstepped boundaries and stepped on others in order to get ahead.

When pride is disguised as a quest for personal significance, it will take people further and further away from the path to meaning fulfillment. That is why failure can be a blessing in disguise, if it makes one pause and reflect on what really matters in life.

Self-abasement vs. realistic self-assessment

Humility is often linked to self-abasement, and the willingness to be a doormat. The word humility is derived from the Lain humilitas, that which is abject, ignoble, or of poor condition. St. Bernard defined it as "A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself."

From a Christian perspective, self-abasement is a natural response, and the only appropriate response, when we recognize our own poor and corrupt state in the presence of a holy God. Such humility serves an important function in connecting us with faith in God and trust in His saving grace.

However, self-abasement is not always helpful in our relationship with people, because it may invite them to trample on us like a doormat. St. Thomas points out that "It is then not humility but folly to embrace any and every humiliation; but when virtue calls for a thing to be done it belongs to humility not to shrink from doing it." (Cited in Catholic Encyclopedia)

Humility is not incompatible with realistic self-assessment. Apostle Paul once said, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (Romans 12:3). St. Thomas also said: "The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior."

One can maintain a humble attitude without the false modesty of denying one's ability or diminishing one's work. However, a humble person does not take oneself too seriously; nor does one take full credit for one's accomplishments. After World War II, in response to all the accolades that came his way, Winston Churchill humbly commented: "I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion's roar."

Different Perspectives

What is then true humility? It is easy to define it by negation, as we have just done. But what are the characteristics of humility? It may be instructive to learn from different religious perspectives.

Christian humility

The true Christian humility is embodied in Christ - in his humble birth in the manger, in his humble daily walk, and finally in his self-sacrificial death on the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote: "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedience to death - even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7).

One of the defining marks of a true Christian is humility, because Jesus has told his disciples: "Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls" (The Gospel according to Matthew 11:29).

Christian humility is paradoxical. Christ has promised: "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:11-12). James reinforces this point: "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you" (James 4:10).

Could we manipulate this paradox by practicing humility in order to be exalted? I don't think it will work, because God knows our hearts and He will not fall for this kind of self-centered scheme.

If we truly follow Christ's example, then humility will be a way of life, a habit of submitting to God's will and a lifelong commitment of devoting ourselves to God's calling. In daily practice, humility means to put aside self-interests in order to serve God and others whole-heartedly. Such an attitude would allow no room for a private agenda to be No.1.

Most likely, the promised reward for practicing humility is spiritual. Since humility is a foundational virtue, through humility we can experience all other virtues and blessings, including God's commendation on Judgment Day.

Buddhist Humility

The Buddhist approach to humility has a very different starting point. It begins with the concern of how to be liberated from the sufferings of life and the vexations of the human mind. The ultimate aim is to achieve a state of enlightenment through meditation and other spiritual practices.

Chan (Zen) Master Li Yuansong states that enlightenment can come only after humility - the wisdom of realizing one's own ignorance, insignificance and lowliness, without which one cannot see the truth.

Humility is also the result of achieving the liberation of Nirvana. When one experiences the ultimate Emptiness and non-self (selflessness), one is free from suffering, vexations and all illusions of self-deception. This state of enlightenment is characterized by humility, compassion and wisdom.

It makes perfect sense that one can experience humility when one recognizes selfish ambitions as illusions, and concentrates on cultivating the mind to achieve Nirvana. Through such spiritual exercises, one is removed from selfish desires and the attractions of the world.

Taoist humility

The central tenet of Taoism is that the purpose of life is to follow the Way or Tao. To live life according to Tao, the universal principle, one needs to embrace the principle of humility and non-striving (wu wei). This philosophy is actually quite practical, because it enables people to live in tranquility and contentment even in the midst of poverty, wars and natural disasters.

This philosophy of life also discourages people from competing for material gains and personal power. As a political philosophy, it teaches leaders to lead by following the Way rather than through coercive power or military might.

To illustrate the wisdom of Taoism, here are a few quotes from Lao Tzu in Tao De Chin:

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed...

Accept disgrace willingly...
Accept being unimportant...
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.

Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.

Creating without claiming,
Doing without taking credit,
Guiding without interfering,
This is Primal Virtue.

Mask your brightness.
Be at one with the dust of the earth.
This is primal union.

...The sage works without recognition.
He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it.
He does not try to show his knowledge.

Practical Implications

Although from different perspectives, all three religions emphasize humility as a cardinal virtue, essential for the attainment of other virtues and blessings. In this sense, humility is the alpha and omega of all virtues.

Humility can yield many benefits. It is certainly beneficial to mental health, social relationships, leadership, world peace and human progress. For example, a humble individual is more likely to be happy and content than a proud person. A humble attitude will also contribute to better relationships. It would be beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all the practical implications. Here, I would just like to highlight two interesting developments.

Humble theology

Sir John Templeton (2000) has developed what is called humble theology. He correctly points out that egotism hinders human progress. We need a humble approach towards science and theology, because no one can claim to know it all with respect to the universe and God. An open-minded, humble attitude to seek new insights and new discoveries will facilitate progress in religion and its dialogue with science.

The merit of humble theology extends well beyond the integration between science and religion. Just imagine how much progress can be made in all human domains, including world affairs, if we resort to humility and dialogue as a way to resolve conflicts rather than depending on intimation and force.

Level 5 leadership

In the area of management and leadership, humility also plays an important role. Collins (2001) recently reported the results of a five-year study of companies that made the leap from being good and competent to greatness. Among other things, great companies are able to demonstrate sustained outstanding performance for 15 years.

What should good companies do to join the ranks of such elite great companies as Coca-Cola and Intel? One of the surprise findings is Level 5 leaders. Transformation to greatness is possible because of leaders, who are able to combine extreme personal humility with intense professional will.

Level 5 refers to the highest level of leadership capabilities. The characteristics common to Level 5 leaders include: personal humility, professional will, unwavering resolve, and the practice of giving credit to others while assigning blame to themselves. Some Level 5 leaders, such as Gillette's Colman Mockler and Kimberly-Clark's Darwin Smith are not only humble, but also shy. They avoid drawing attention to themselves; they want to quietly focus their energy on building a great company. Collins recognizes that "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, shy and fearless."

The attributes of Level 5 leaders overlaps with some of the characteristics of servant leadership, first popularized by Robert Greenleaf (1991). In contrast to the self-seeking, celebrity-conscious leaders, servant leaders are primarily interested in developing workers and building up the company; they achieve success and even greatness through developing a great workforce. The key element common to both Level 5 leaders and servant leaders is personal humility. It is sad but true that so few leaders, including religious leaders, possess this important personal quality.

A positive psychology of humility

Is humility an inherited personality trait? Can it be cultivated? The consensus is that like most psychological attributes, humility is the product of interactions between nature and nurture.

A positive psychology of humility would need to address the following issues:

Hindrances to humility

Competition is clearly the No.1 hindrance. Humility is probably the most difficult virtue to achieve, mostly because egotistic pride works so much better than humility in a competitive society. Think of all the star players in major-league sports; how many really stand out as a good role model of personal humility?

Success is another hindrance. Feeling good about success can easily lapse into pride, especially when others heap praises on you. Pastor Brett has this to say about the temptation of pride: "Of all the problems Pastors face, this is one of the hardest. On the one hand, you have to completely die to yourself and be a humble servant, and on the other you feel God's power flow through you and experience His inspiration and begin to feel like God uses you because you are special. This is where pride sneaks in and your head begins to swell."

Thirdly, even reflecting on one's own humility can be a hindrance. Humility thrives only when one's attention is directed away from it towards serving others. It withers away whenever attention is directed toward its presence. When I congratulate myself for making progress in humility, or when "I thank my God for my humility" (Shakespeare), I actually hinder its development.

The development of humility

As long as people firmly believe that winning is the only thing that matters, it is not possible to develop humility. However, when people realize the enormous benefits of humility on both personal and societal levels, they would be more inclined to cultivate it.

There are two complementary approaches to the development of humanity. On the macro level, we need to embrace a religion that incorporates the following beliefs, individually and collectively:

  • Self-awareness of our own mortality
  • Belief in life after death
  • Realizing our own inadequacies and wrong doings
  • Realizing our need for redemption and cleansing
  • Realizing our need for help and guidance
  • Believing in a spiritual and transcendental reality
  • Believing in the need to submit to a higher power

Humility needs a proper religious home, because it is not an isolated virtue that can stand on its own. It is one of the few virtues that are intimately related to our assumptive world and core values.

On the micro level, we need to develop the habit of humble practices on a daily basis. These include the following skills and exercises:

  • Acknowledging our wrong doing
  • Receiving correction and feedback graciously
  • Refraining from criticizing others
  • Forgiving others who have wronged us
  • Apologizing to others who have been wronged by us
  • Enduring unfair treatments with patience and a forgiving spirit
  • Thinking and speaking about the good things of other people
  • Rejoicing over other people's success
  • Counting our blessings for everything, good and bad
  • Seeking opportunities to serve others
  • Willing to remain anonymous in helping others
  • Showing gratitude for our successes
  • Giving due credit to others for our successes
  • Treating success as a responsibility to do more for others
  • Willing to learn from our failures
  • Assuming responsibility for our failures
  • Accepting our limitations and circumstances
  • Accepting social reality of discrimination and prejudice
  • Treating all people with respect regardless of their social status
  • Enjoying the lowly status of being an outsider and a nobody

Benefits of humility

Just imagine how the above beliefs and practices can dramatically transform one's life for good. If we were to develop a reliable and valid instrument to measure humility, I would predict that humility is associated with the following psychological benefits:

  • A reduction of anxiety, fear and depression
  • A reduction in conflict, anger and aggression
  • An increase in happiness and well-being
  • An increase in optimism
  • An improvement in friendship and intimate relationships
  • Openness for new experiences and new learning
  • Greater empathy, compassion and altruism
  • Higher job satisfaction and morale at work

Systemic research on the above will help create a body of scientific knowledge on humility. It will be the cornerstone of developing a paradoxical positive psychology of what appears to be a human weakness.


I have been entertaining the idea of writing a book entitled: "I'm glad that I'm a nobody: A positive psychology of humility", because such a book will resonate with the great multitudes of common folks. This brief essay provides some ideas of what the book will look like.

As I survey all the tall walls and hierarchies erected around us, and as I watch the so called "big shots" strutting across the stage, wearing an arrogant but anxious look, I can honestly say: "I'm glad that I'm a nobody." This statement is no sour grape, because there is indeed no place safer and freer than the lowly spot of humility. The curtain will fall soon enough on all of us. What will outlive us is not the applause, but the life lived.

Thank God that He has created so many nobodies. I am particularly thankful that "God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (Corinthians: 1:3). The world is preserved and enhanced by millions of ordinary folks doing honest work without fanfare, without recognition.

I would like to end this brief essay with an inspiring statement by Helen Keller:

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.


Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap..and others don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis: The Greenleaf Center.

Templeton, J. (2000). Possibilities for over one hundredfold more spiritual information: The humble approach in theology and science. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press.

  • Current Music
    John Lennon / Across the Universe
  • Tags