Friday, August 20, 2010

Humility IV

I have posted on humility before. It is a subject that intrigues me, in part because I have a widespread reputation for being humble, yet I know that I am far from exhibiting the kind of humility that Mike Mansfield evidenced, let alone the kind of humility that Jesus modeled for us. It sometimes seems like an impossibly deep and difficult conversion, and it does not help when people praise me for having reached a state of humility when I know that there are layers of pride still to peel away. (I do not believe that humility is something that one achieves through effort or that one reaches as the goal of a journey. It is something different, at least in my experience of it. It is rather a state of being, one that comes from an ongoing conversion process.)

I suppose I have been thinking about humility a lot recently because of one of my most talented employees who has encountered jealousy and hostility from the people who work with him. Those emotions have taken him by surprise, and his response has swung between the poles of ignoring his peers and continuing to produce exceptional work that grabs the attention of my superiors, bringing him kudos and further irritating his peers, and becoming highly self-defensive and jousting with them over one idea or another or one project or another. I recently counseled him about his own behavior. He considers me a mentor, so the fact that I lay some of the responsibility for the fragmented team atmosphere in his unit on him made him uncomfortable. He also felt it was unfair because the others were "picking on" him and not vice versus. I tried to explain to him that it did not matter who started it. It did not matter who was right. As a member of the team, he needed to be able to forgive them if he truly felt that they had wounded him and continue to work for the common good. He told me that he could not do that yet, so I asked him to stay in my office (I had plenty of computer work to do) until he felt that he could at least try to forgive them. He stayed, and after twenty minutes, he announced that he was ready to forgive them. The peace lasted a few days, and then war broke out again. While humility is perhaps a rather strange thing to discuss with an employee (although perhaps no more strange than the topic of forgiveness), I pointed out that his problem seemed to be one of lack of humility. He immediately launched into a litany of all the ways in which he exhibited low self-esteem and did not consider himself the equal of his peers. That was rather insightful but not in the way he thought. He thought that by citing low self-esteem he was describing his own humility, but I don't think so. I think he was simply describing, if true, his sense of insecurity that has led to ego protection that others look at as arrogance. Humility requires healthy self-esteem, not low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is an ego problem. Healthy self-esteem is not. Nor is it egotistical. Although I am no psychologist, I have mentored hundreds of future managers, and self-esteem issues are often the reason for dysfunctional teams. So, I did not hesitate to share my thinking with this employee. Well, within a couple of days he sent me a note, describing his plan for developing humility. He listed several steps that he was going to take to achieve it and how he was going to measure it himself. Again, I talked to him, this time about the fact that he would not be able to measure his own "progress" in "achieving" humility, that others must measure us and provide honest feedback on their perceptions of us. Really, only God knows our hearts, but I have not gotten that far into the discussion with him yet (another discussion that would be unusual in the work place). From what I can see (and I may well be wrong), we convert to a growing deeper state of humility through the grace God imparts to us when we put God first, others second, and ourselves outside the importance meter.

This must be the week for thinking about humility because yesterday afternoon another employee, this one from our training unit came to me, frustrated because one of our managers was sending a couple of trainers from a different division to our Korean branch to do something that this trainer felt was her turf. I explained that we don't have turf, that the other division is a pure training division whereas we just have a few trainers assigned to one of our centers, and that being territorial is often the antithesis of being professional. She agreed with me in principle but said that the trainers from the other division, which maintains a mild rivalry with our division (this is from their side only -- I don't do rivalry for it is counterproductive), taunted her about not being as good as they are. It took quite a long discussion to help her reach the point that she could dismiss their taunts. Once again, it was pride, insecurity, and the wrong kind of self-esteem that threatened to turn her from a confident, contributing employee to a jealous and dysfunctional one. Once again, we were dancing around the issue of humility.

As for me, well, as much as I might mentor, counsel, guide, advise, help (choose the word you like) others, I am no exemplary role model. I yearn to experience a state of untainted humility, the kind of humility exhibited by Mike Mansfield, by St. Francis, by Jesus. (If anyone wants to read a great book, try Ilia Delio's The Humility of God -- think about the ways in which God has always put His creations first and the ways in which He has forgiven them their prideful maltreatment of Him.) Many are the times I think to take greater steps toward reaching greater humility when it hits me that there is nothing that I can do. There is no achievement to reach and no journey to take. Rather, it is for God to peel away my layers of pride; I can do no more than let Him. It is the letting of Him that is the most difficult and yet the most necessary and desired.


  1. It is really great that you are able to help and mentor so many people. You are a rare gem!


  2. Thank you for your kind words, Jane. The opportunity to help and mentor and the pleasure I receive from doing it is God's gift, I believe, for accepting and staying in the job where He wants me. I do so little, it seems, in return for the tremendous blessings He pours on me. From pure love, I suppose.

  3. Betty, this reflection is so neat to me because it actually became my challenge several months ago. I have called it my "humbleness project" and it started when one day I became so upset at an issue at work. My boss told me: "keep your composure". I meditated about it, and realized that although I was right, my upsetting reaction was rather provoked by my ego. Then I identified my lack of humility. Prayer has helped me a lot. And by becoming aware of my ego problem, and showing more humility, just like a chain reaction, my boss and co-workers seem to love me more! :-)
    Great post. Blessings.


  4. What an interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Elizabeth,
    I like reading the posts on humility. This one tickled my funny bone a bit because your employee equated his low self-esteem with humility. Still, he showed a degree of humility because he pondered on your words and didn't immediately toss them out. The forgiveness thing showed a bit of humility too in that he was honest about his unwillingness to forgive just yet ;) His plan for developing humility and judging his own progress made me giggle! He deserves an A for effort! No wonder the Lord loves us so much. The Lord must have smiled at this man's sincerity!
    I agree that it's God's work to peel away our layers of pride and our job is to let Him. It's nothing that we can do on our own. I'm aware that I need quite a bit of work in this area but I leave it in His hands. I figure that He's certainly not going to leave me half-done so I try not to worry about it too much. Great post!

  6. Doris, I think only God can help us with our egos.

    Fancy, thanks!

    Thanks for the reflection, Mary. I think you are so right: God is definitely not going to leave us half-done unless we push Him away.

  7. Thank you for this post, Elizabeth! Humility is perhaps the most difficult attribute to embrace. It requires us to look into our own souls as Christ peers into our very being, picking, prodding and poking through all our faults and shortcomings. No one, least of all me, likes to admit to the fact that our shortcomings outnumber our goodness.

  8. Yes, a necessary admission but difficult.

  9. This post was timely for me right now. God is peeling back the layers of pride from me. I like the way you said this......

    There is no achievement to reach and no journey to take. Rather, it is for God to peel away my layers of pride; I can do no more than let Him. It is the letting of Him that is the most difficult and yet the most necessary and desired.

    Thanks for praying for me and my Mom. :)