jump to navigation

Fun with Words: Is Humility A Virtue? November 15, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Mindfulness, Word Play.

Is humility a virtue? 

To answer that question, we must first understand the terms themselves.

What is virtue?  How is it defined?

* Strength
* Manliness
* Morality
* Manly strength or courage
* Valor
* A commendable quality
* Merit
* Active power to accomplish a given effect
* Potency
* Efficacy and efficiency
* Chastity (especially in a woman ~ ah, gender specificity!)

What is humility? 

* The quality or state of being humble.

Well, then, how is humble defined?

Like virtue, it has numerous definitions and synonyms:

* Not proud or haughty
* Not pretentious
* Unassuming
* Insignificant
* Meek
* Modest
* Lowly


Hmm . . .

If we view humility as a virtue, doesn’t that imply that we should strive to be insignificant, meek, modest, and lowly?

But, wait!

Aren’t those traits the polar opposite of virtue . . . strength, courage, valor, potency, merit, and efficiency?

Moreover, how would striving to be insignificant or lowly advance our interests as a species?

If everyone is striving to be as insignificant as possible by “playing small,” what would be the end result?

Instead of reaching for the stars, would we be forever tethered to the Earth?

Instead of encouraging others to excel, would we be doomed to mediocrity?

Look again at the definition of virtue . . . and compare it with the definition of humilty.

Is humility a virtue?

Or is viewing it that way oxymoronic?

* * * * *

As Marianne Richardson said so well:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

To read the full quote:  Our Deepest Fear

No rules.  Just write!



1. auntbethany - November 15, 2010

Humility, like any other virtue, can be abused if taken to its extreme. Take patience: it’s appropriate to be patient while being put on hold during a telephone call…is it still appropriate to be patient when your voice is refused to be recognized in a job setting? So, is patience a virtue? Yes and no…but use it well!

nrhatch - November 15, 2010

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I’m fairly patient . . . except during conversations. I interrupt people to move discussions along all too frequently.

As far as humility goes, if I know that I haven’t done my best, it’s easy for me to be meek and modest about my insignificant efforts.

But when something tickles my fancy, whether it’s my work or someone else’s, I want to share it “with the world” without waiting for others to notice it.

Hmm . . . maybe I’m not as patient as I think. 🙂

2. Paula Tohline Calhoun - November 15, 2010

Virtuous humility (as opposed to the other kind!) is accomplished by behavior that recognizes things for what they are – no more and no less. In other words, if I have pride in some of my writing, the virtuous pride would come in my recognition of what I have accomplished as being “precisely what it is, no more and no less.” “I did well on that poem,” or “I expressed myself in a manner I have heretofore been unable to,” are both examples of virtuous humility – they speak the truth without unnecessary embellishment. Now is that a convoluted way of making my point or what! Said another way, “virtuous humility” is definitely not an oxymoron.

nrhatch - November 15, 2010

I tend to agree.

When someone compliments something that is not “my best work,” I’m reluctant to accept the compliment at all ~ for my goal as a writer is not to be a better writer than someone else, but to be a better writer than my previous self. And I know, better than anyone, when I’m being “lazy.” 😉

Sometimes I duck “unearned” compliments by saying something like, “Thanks, I have my moments.”

3. Loreen Lee - November 15, 2010

There have been different presentations of the virtues, from the seven virtues of Acquinas to the virtues of Buddhism. Haven’t seen one which has not acknowledge ‘right’ humility as a virtue. There is also Aristotle mean, which defines virtue as the middle way between two extremes. Aristotle brings a lot of clarification to me on a lot of issues.

nrhatch - November 15, 2010

Aristotle sees virtue as life balance, perhaps.

4. Cindy - November 15, 2010


nrhatch - November 15, 2010

I know, right! 🙂

And let’s not forget . . . chastity! 😉

5. souldipper - November 15, 2010

Since one cannot be humble the moment one lays claim to it, I like this simple definition: teachable.

nrhatch - November 15, 2010

I like that idea ~ an open mind learns more in a day than a closed mind learns in a year . . . or something to that effect.

6. Brown Eyed Mystic - November 15, 2010

I am with auntbethany. Take it in small, suitable doses but remember there exists no dictionary stating what doses are “right”. It’s something that comes with experience, how much humility to practice.

On another thought, it may not even be a self-controlled trait, meaning it may be inherited or learnt since birth? Can’t say for sure, but reckon it’s best to be humble when you are a monk with a thousand followers and best to be not so humble when you are a fighter leading 100 men on horses.


nrhatch - November 15, 2010

I think you’re right . . . it’s a continuum, with excess pride and extreme arrogance at one end and self-abasement at the other.

Where we want to fall on that continuum depends, in part, on what we are doing with our lives in that moment.

Chad - November 16, 2010

The way I see it, both excess pride and self-abasement are still self-focused. They are different forms of pride. Humility doesn’t mean hating yourself.

Real humility simply doesn’t focus on itself. A humble person is someone who cares about OTHERS. A humble writer (for example) will appreciate his work, if it is good, the same way she appreciates the work of other good writers and no more or less.

A truly humble person basically hardly notices herself most of the time and is concerned with other things.

Loreen Lee - November 16, 2010

This gets Aristotle to the ‘core’. Humility would be the mean between the excess pride and the self-abasement.

Chad - November 16, 2010

I don’t think so. Pride and self-hatred are both self-oriented, and are a result of lack of humility. I don’t see how humility is ‘between’ the two, though. I wouldn’t say that “peace” is a mean between foreign war and civil war.

7. Loreen Lee - November 16, 2010

I’ll leave this between you and Aristotle. Would recommend his Nicomachean Ethics. He doesn’t list peace as a ‘virtue’. Happiness, and thus I would assume peace (of mind) anyway, is the product of virtue, he holds. I only know that seeking the ‘mean’, and not being ‘mean’ has helped me in my life. Virtues then would be personal dispositions, rather than external values sought within the civil community. They are constituents of the Self – yes we may even say the ego. It is the vices that are avoided, not the ego, or Self per se, which is necessary as the substantial center of a person, and like the quest for God, is what is searched for in the process of Self-fulfillment. But please don’t take this as the last word on Aristotle, not when his writings are so accessible. Don’t philosophies and interpretations vary!!!!!!

8. souldipper - November 16, 2010

Yep, you are rockin’! There’s lots to learn – you bring out the best in commenters, methinks.

nrhatch - November 16, 2010

That’s part of what I envisioned when I started this blog . . .

That certain posts would be thought provoking enough to elicit the healthy exchange of ideas and information through honest reaction and civil commentary.

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: