“The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.”
― Mahatma Gandhi, “The Story of My Experiments With Truth”
Psychotherapy is a contemporary path towards truth. This truth-seeking process between client and therapist is designed to cut through illusion and delusion so as to honestly know oneself. It is through honestly knowing oneself that healing can happen. Hence, the greatest initial challenge for the therapy client is to be, in the words of Ghandi, “humbler than the dust”, so that truth can emerge.
Many clients enter into treatment evidencing profound unhappiness and deep-seated shame. Yet as much as they long for stability and connection to oneself and others, their psychological defenses guard them from examining the painful truths intrinsic to self-revelation.
While this collective trepidation reflects the impulse to protect oneself from painful truths, an erroneous interpretation of humility as self-abasement or inferiority also influences this defensive posturing.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s indictment of humility as a cornerstone of a “slave morality” is a common conviction. Accordingly, it is understandable that those seeking treatment are reluctant to access the requisite humility necessary to the unfolding of the therapeutic process.
However, once it is accepted that humility respects our innate humanity and is therefore the trajectory to selfhood, devotion to self-exploration can unfold.
The Positive Psychology Movement is motivated by the premise that the pursuit of well – being requires an investigation into human virtue and strength. Conceptualizing humility as a human virtue and strength contributes to our recognizing that a realistic and honest acceptance of the self enhances emotional, spiritual, and psychological health.
From this perspective, we can appreciate how humility mitigates egotism and conflict and breeds generosity, how it puts pride in perspective and fosters self-forgiveness and willingness towards forgiveness and reconciliation with others. It illuminates that humility is ethical as it is teachable and receptive to vulnerability.
Psychologist and researcher Dr. June Price Tangney defined humility as including:
- An accurate assessment of one’s abilities and achievements
- The ability to acknowledge one’s mistakes, imperfections, gaps in knowledge, and limitations
- An openness to new ideas, contradictory information and advice
- A keeping of one’s abilities and accomplishments, one’s place in the world, in perspective
- A relatively low self-focus, a “forgetting of the self,” while recognizing that one is but one part of the larger universe
- An appreciation of the many different ways that people and things can contribute to our world.
Dr. Tangney’s signature work on humility encourages us to acknowledge our imperfections with grace, to admit when we are wrong and to have the courage to make necessary changes.
With humility, psychological and physical energy will not be wasted on defending, concealing, impressing, justifying, glorifying or self-promoting.
Instead, energy will be channeled into maintaining the sort of inner peace and balance that comes with owning who one is, cultivating connections characterized by authenticity and vulnerability and remaining curious and open to intellectual growth and moral development.
On a transpersonal level, the future of our planet rests on our capacity to humbly embrace our moral limitations and honor the Divine mystery and power of nature.
Astrophysicist and Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar stated:
“Nature has shown over and over again that the kinds of truth which underlie nature transcend the most powerful minds.”
Chandresekhar implies that our intellectual arrogance deludes us into believing that mankind is superior to the natural world. As a result, corporations and governments feel justified in their efforts to conquer nature, as evidenced by the privatization of natural resources, imperialist hegemony,and the callous plundering of the planet.
This global absence of humility is sadly evidenced in the amoral decision-making pervading foreign policy, economic disparity and the tragic reality of global warming. Unless we humbly examine the irrefutable reality of man’s inhumanity, specifically the potential for evil within the human condition which fuels our power-driven motives and inclinations to oppress and dominate, the possibility of individual and global salvation will tragically elude us.
Clearly, in this day and age of rampant elitism and narcissistic ambitions the call to humility is sorely needed. In the words of French philosopher and politician Charles de Montesquieu:
“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”