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“I’m Humbled” March 27, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, People, Spirit & Ego.

Donald-DuckI confess to raising my eyebrows a bit when someone responds to a compliment by saying “I’m humbled.”

Doesn’t “being humbled” mean we’ve been knocked down a peg or two by losing a race, making a mistake, or being human?

How would receiving a compliment be humbling?

Wouldn’t a compliment tend to have the opposite effect on people who use an external reference point to gauge their progress in life?

In many instances, “I’m humbled,” translates loosely as, “I’m stoked! Thanks for noticing!”

Why not just say that?

Aah . . . that’s better!

Quote to ponder:  In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride.  For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Related posts:  Fun with Words ~ Is Humility a Virtue? * You’re Full of Hubris


1. Grannymar - March 27, 2014

I like this definition from Merriam Webster:


: not proud : not thinking of yourself as better than other people
: given or said in a way that shows you do not think you are better than other people
: showing that you do not think of yourself as better than other people

I have been known to say I am honoured & humbled, when praised for something.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

While watching the Oscars, I noticed several people accepting awards, beaming from ear to ear, while saying “I’m humbled.”

Their actions belied their words. It was clear they were stoked at the honor of receiving an award which recognized the merit of their work. They were proud of the accomplishment, not humbled. If they didn’t believe they won the award for being “the best,” what would be the point of accepting the award at all?

I don’t internalize most criticisms/compliments since people often use them to manipulate us to do what “they” want us to do ~ like them, return the favor, feel shame or guilt for not meeting their expectations, etc.. I tired of playing that game a long while ago.

Because I don’t absorb them into my being, I seldom feel the need to say much beyond, “Thanks!”

Grannymar - March 27, 2014

My early life was full of knock-backs. My father did not come from giving-ton where compliments were concerned. Even when I cooked meals for eight people at a young age when mammy was ill, all he could offer was “It is not as good as your mother makes”.So, I am humbled when someone thinks my work is worthy of mention or praise.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Bad on your dad! Your mother had far more practice. Good on you for trying to feed the family.

My favorite compliments always stem from hearing that I made someone else’s life a bit brighter or their load a bit lighter. Or I helped them shift their perspective in the “right” direction.

Grannymar - March 27, 2014

That works for me too.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

And that’s why I love most of your posts ~ they are light and bright.

2. Maggie - March 27, 2014

The more appropriate use for “I’m humbled” would be after we hear criticism (whether constructive or not). I guess it’s a testament to how prideful humans are that we seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word. Love the Ben Franklin quote!

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Thanks, Maggie. That’s a great quote . . .

I expect that most people are in that boat with Ben. But, as they do not want to APPEAR proud, they tell people they’re “humbled” (even when they are anything but).

3. Don - March 27, 2014

I think it often comes out of that destructive feeling of unworthiness that will not allow any kind of affirmation in case it pushes us in to “pride.” So we say, “I’m humbled.”

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Good point, Don. I expect some feel “pride” but don’t want to be perceived by others as proud, so they utter, “I’m humbled,” as part of Ego’s disguise. The mask of humility.

4. ericjbaker - March 27, 2014

When someone gives me a compliment, I say, “I know.” That’s usually the end of the compliments.

Seriously, most of the time I compliment the person back to deflect attention.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

I love your response ~> “I know!” (I bet you knew that). 😎

Like you, I often deflect compliments ~> “Right back at ya!” (But you’re astute, so you probably knew that too.)

Here’s what I know:

I know when something is my best effort (yay!). If someone else notices, double yay! ~> “Thanks . . . I have my moments.”

I also know when something is NOT my best effort. When I’m being lazy, complacent, apathetic, etc. ~> it feels odd to be complimented for a half-hearted effort.

ericjbaker - March 27, 2014

It depends on the type of compliment, I suppose. Whenever I do a blog post that’s me-focused (e.g., this is MY writing process) I feel a bit silly and awkward hitting “Publish.” first of all, who cares about my personal experience, but second, because I know people are going to say things like, “That’s a brilliant idea, I can’t wait to read your novel,” and so on. My first reaction is to write, “But I could be a total idiot and the end result might be a disaster.” Then I remember it is pretty awful and rude to reject someone’s kindness and social generosity, even if my intent is to retroactively shield myself from scrutiny.

I’m more comfortable with compliments that don’t require a reaction from me. For example, about a million years ago I was in a band battle and the judges were legit in terms of being music industry pros. On the scorecard, the judge wrote, “The drummer is a standout. Great stage presence, great look, and very skilled.” I was happy with it because the judge had no motive to please or support me (or be sycophantic), and I wasn’t expected to react one way or another. All the social pressure was off. At the same time, if he has said, “Drummer plays OK but needs to work on his showmanship,” I would have worked on my showmanship without crying about it.

Oh look, I just made this comment about me.

**feels humble**

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

You were happy with that compliment for good reason because the judge:

(1) wasn’t a toadie, yes-man, ass-kisser, brown-noser, or sycophant,
(2) knew what he was talking about, had a frame of reference, and was comparing apples with apples (or, in your case, drummers with drummers), and
(3) had no ulterior motive.

He had credentials and nothing to gain from bestowing the compliment (or inflating it), so it was worth absorbing.

But that often is NOT the case. Especially in the cyber world when folks toss around gratuitous compliments and non-monetized awards at no cost to them (other than a loss of integrity if they are “lying”).

When we soak up undeserved compliments, we shift our locus of control from “us” to “them.” That’s a high price to pay just because Ego wants to preen a bit.

5. Kate @ Did That Just Happen? - March 27, 2014

I don’t understand that as a response to a compliment, either…
Nope, even after sitting here for a bit I still don’t get it! LOL

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

It’s always seemed a odd response to me, Kate. I expect it has to do with the “masks” we wear to protect our fragile and self-absorbed Ego.

6. William D'Andrea - March 27, 2014

“I take great pride in my humility. I am very proud of how humble I am. I don’t know anyone who is as humble as I!”
“Wrong! I’m humbler than you!”

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Ha! You and Ben should compare notes over some “Bubbles and Squeak!”

7. diannegray - March 27, 2014

I tend to use the words ‘honored’ or ‘flattered’ instead of humbled, Nancy 😉

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Those are closer to the words I would choose when accepting a compliment, Dianne.

I’ve been “humbled” a time or two . . . like the time I fell flat on my ass when walking across the floor for a job interview with right hand outstretched in greeting.

8. Behind the Story - March 27, 2014

It IS hard to take a compliment. I think most people like to be complimented. So why at the moment of a compliment are we so embarrassed or unwilling to accept it?

Here’s one idea: Do you remember when your “A” at school earned you an angry look and an I-hate-you from your classmate?

Another idea: You know there are flaws in your acting or your writing or whatever. Besides, you had to work your butt off, practicing and revising, to get to this point. Your first draft was a disaster. This feeling, of course, is unrealistic and probably more related to pride than to humility.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Good thoughts, Nicki. Many of us are socialized NOT to call attention to our accomplishments for fear that we’ll be perceived as outshining out peers . . . and yet we are pushed to compete for grades, awards, accolades, etc.

It’s much nicer getting off that merry-go-round. Instead of trying to be better than someone else, I aim to be better at being me.

9. Pix Under the Oaks - March 27, 2014

I am always surprised and caught off guard be a compliment and usually get a goofy smile or look down at my feet!

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Ha! Is that why your avatar is feet? So you can see them when someone pays you a cyber compliment?

Pix Under the Oaks - March 27, 2014

Smiling here.

nrhatch - March 27, 2014

Hope you’re not in the middle of that naughty weather, Pix.

10. bluebee - March 28, 2014

Semantic nitpicking, Nancy! Or not, depending on your provenance. Just don’t ever ask an Aussie if they have a stiffie for you, that’s all I can say 🙂

nrhatch - March 28, 2014

Stiffie vs. Stiff . . . what a difference “ie” make! From life to death in a single boner!

bluebee - March 28, 2014


11. Val Boyko - March 28, 2014

Compliments – the giving and receiving really are different around the world. Putting oneself below the giver of the compliment is often a way of showing respect.
Very un-American ….
Politeness and authenticity …. now that would be a good conversation!

nrhatch - March 28, 2014

Social niceties often are a way of getting us to fly in formation with the rest of the flock. A way to manipulate us as we seek to protect our fragile Egos.

From my perspective, if someone is GIVING me a genuine compliment, there should be no strings attached to it.

12. valleygrail - March 28, 2014

All right, peacocks line up on the left; blobfish on the right. If you are a peacock and proud as punch, say it! If you thought you were the prettiest blobfish in the sea, and just saw a Regal Angelfish, you have every right to feel humbled. Reality checks have that effect on all of us. And peacocks, please stop pretending you don’t know you are spectacular. Thank you.

nrhatch - March 28, 2014

Thanks, Valleygrail! Excellent sum up.

13. jannatwrites - March 28, 2014

I hadn’t thought about it, but it is an interesting response. I guess it comes out when they don’t know what else to say?

nrhatch - March 28, 2014

It surprised me how many times I heard it while watching the Oscars this year ~ I suppose it’s how some people keep their Ego in check so they don’t wander about with an inflated head.

I keep my Ego in check by refusing to guard its reputation.

14. colonialist - March 28, 2014

I strongly believe in having a true appreciation of one’s own worth, which entails having a worth to be truly appreciative of.

nrhatch - March 28, 2014

Yes. And when we self-appreciate, we no longer need “snappy comebacks” for the compliments we bestow upon ourselves.

colonialist - March 28, 2014

With nothing wrong in saying, ‘Thank you for the compliment,’ and leaving it at that, when one is justly praised.

nrhatch - March 28, 2014


15. Three Well Beings - March 30, 2014

Really good point! And it never rings true to me. It’s sort of a false humility, I think!

nrhatch - March 30, 2014

Thanks, Deb. That’s my take on it ~ proud of receiving the compliment without wanting to be perceived as proud.

16. Nancy Curteman - April 22, 2014

I think it is difficult for some people to accept compliments. They may feel they need to reply with something like: I’ve had this for years or I like yours, too. Best to simply say, “Thank you.”

nrhatch - April 22, 2014

I agree, NC. Most people do have a hard time accepting compliments. When I give someone a sincere compliment, I think it’s wonderful to hear an equally sincere “thank you.”

17. anotherday2paradise - November 23, 2020

I love the Benjamin Franklin quote. He was very astute. We people say, “I’m humbled”, I always cringe…… just a little. 🙂

nrhatch - November 23, 2020

Me too. It’s an odd way to respond to a compliment.

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