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To Be Humble Doesn’t Mean to Be Inferior

What we think of as humbleness feels more like self-loathing in most cases. This typically happens when we compare ourselves to someone else a find a place of inferiority thus causing an undervalued sense of self. We develop what is called an inferiority complex, but this definition only tells half the story. When we have an inferiority complex, we are typically masking a deeper sense of superiority. In this case, I’d like to say that we are trying to hide our perfection. It’s no different than the definition of a superiority complex where a person would do the opposite in acting with superiority to hide an underlying insecurity. Think of any of your favorite cartoon bullies.

When we act in what society calls humility, we are hiding our greatness. If you don’t believe me, think of the last time you shyly didn’t accept the praise you knew that you deserved. I do it all the time. How about the time you pretended to be helpless when you needed no help or pretended to not know the answer to a question you had so much confidence in? Have you asked your significant other where she wants to eat knowing darn well you want a burger? What happens if your significant other picks sushi? Do you reluctantly pick up your chopsticks in the name of humility? We’d like to say that we are doing this to have a humble perception from others, but also weirdly, allows us to promote our own importance. I’m eating sushi because I love my significant other. She doesn’t know how good she has it. It’s kind of weird thinking about it. There have been instances where I’ve been offered help, but if I refuse it because I’m confident in my abilities, I’m seen as proud.

Let’s use an example of asking for help when you’re perfectly capable of doing something yourself. The manager/direct report dynamic might be familiar with this false sense of humility. Let’s say the manager appreciates the feedback of others. When planning a project, the manager knows exactly what he wants to do, but wants to ask the team. How is this false humility? The act of getting a group to brainstorm the planning that the manager is responsible for brings attention to the manager. It tells the direct reports that this task is important enough to have an entire meeting in which they are required to bring new ideas. The manager doesn’t bring ideas. He’s only there to mediate. The call for team members to share opinions and ideas truly only serves the manager needing to start the project.

There’s a good chance that people ask for help or the opinions of other people because they are afraid to be accountable for the power that they wield. Asking a group for ideas that don’t work makes it easier to distribute the blame. That same distribution may not happen if someone else’s idea succeeds. This example really doesn’t mean other than noting that we do have power. The ability to not use that power is in itself a measure of control. We would only diminish our light due to appearances and how we are perceived around others. I wouldn’t call this humility. I hate to repeat it, but our perceptions don’t matter. They are meaningless. For that reason alone we shouldn’t feel inferior to any person.