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Humility Is Not


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
This article intrigued me; it provoked some thought about whether humility is the absence of pride. Many questions followed. Is humility expressed in our deeds or in our words? Is humility the cultivation of self-abasement? Is humility always a good thing in every circumstance. Is humility always the right response to a moral or ethical problem?

In a quick search of the subject, I discovered that there are many points of view on the nature and benefits of humility. This article challenges some common definitions of humility. The author asks whether humility is even rational or wise. Does humility mean having a low estimate of yourself? Does pride mean boastfulness, arrogance and conceit? Can pride be a prime motivator for being a moral person?

Why Humility is Not a Virtue
Jaana Woiceshyn

According to conventional morality, humility is a virtue. We are taught to think not too highly of ourselves or not to take credit for our achievements. Whatever we accomplish is due to collective effort or the grace of a higher power. A group of Executive MBA students once argued that humility means admitting your errors and not blaming others for them. However, that is not humility but consistency with two egoist virtues, rationality (recognizing facts, not evading them) and justice (not giving or taking the undeserved). Humility, commonly understood, means a low estimate of oneself and one’s accomplishments. The Oxford English Dictionary defines humility as “the quality of being humble: having a low estimate of one’s importance, worthiness, or merits.” Humility is associated with the moral code of altruism: you should not elevate your interests above those of others but just the opposite—because others and their interests are more worthy, and it is your duty to serve them.

From the perspective of rational egoism humility most decidedly is not a virtue but a vice: in order to achieve your self-interest, you must be motivated to achieve your values and happiness. Putting others first will take away that motivation and undermine your ability to achieve your values. A humble person will think: “Who am I to assert my values and presume I deserve them? Who am I to think that it is more important to achieve my values than to give them up for the sake of others?” For example, a humble person would withdraw from the competition if someone else applies for the same job or pursues the same customer. Submitting to others will not lead to your self-interest in business or in any other realm.

Instead of humility, rational egoism holds pride as one its basic virtues—not in the sense of boastfulness, arrogance, or conceit—but as moral ambitiousness. Pride in the egoist sense is not a feeling but, as Tara Smith puts it, “the policy of doing one’s best.” This policy counsels you to do the best job you can in anything you undertake, within the context of the situation and your abilities.

Doing your best requires that you ambitiously strive for “moral perfection” by cultivating all the egoist virtues so that they become a second nature. You want to cultivate rationality so that you will base your choices and actions on facts rather than evade them. (This includes the recognition of the fact you may not be able to accomplish something without the collaboration or help of others.) You want to cultivate productiveness so that you can create the material values that living a successful, happy life requires. You want to cultivate independence so that you will make decisions based on your own assessment of facts as opposed to following others blindly. You want to cultivate integrity so that you will identify the correct principles for achieving rational values and apply them consistently. You want to cultivate honesty so that you will not attempt to fake reality in order to gain values (no deceiving your customers, investors, employees, or anyone else, including yourself). You want to cultivate justice so that you will assess people objectively (including yourself) and grant them what they deserve (such as recognition and payment for their contribution to your values). By striving to apply all the egoist virtues, you are practicing pride. If you succeed in developing these virtues into habits, your reward is the achievement of your values. The virtues are the means to your values—and pride reminds you of that fact.

Pride as a policy of doing one’s best is an important source of motivation, and thus crucially important in business. A business firm (its employees) must strive to do its best in creating value for its customers—if it does not, it will be outdone by its competitors. We have all seen firms where the employees don’t care about the quality of their work; they are not practicing pride. Such firms cannot achieve their self-interest—maximum returns to their owners—as customers, investors, and employees desert them.

If we want to be happy and profitable, we must reject humility as a deterrent to achieving values and embrace pride, alongside with the rest of the egoist virtues.

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Spnadmin ji,

Guru Fateh.

First of all I thank you for posting this wonderful article which echos my own sentiments to the key.

I have been repeating in this very forum for years that " Humility" is the most arrogant word in the English Dictionary.

Phrases like IMHO (in my HUMBLE opinion) show the amount of arrogance because it is normally used to disagree or to up oneself from the other.

Other examples:

1.In all my HUMILITY, I say.....

2. I am just a HUMBLE person.......

3. One should show HUMILITY or be HUMBLE.......

One can go on and on and this is a very common phenomena in Indian culture with catch words like: Tuhadei charnah de dur- Dust of your feet. Mein tei Nimanah han- I am just a humble person. Mein tei tuhada sevak han- I am your servant and many more like these. Indian languages are filled with these kinds of phrases to show one's arrogance off.

I wish I had this kind of creativity to pen these thoughts the way the author has done.

Humility is like Sikhi way of life, which is lived not babbled nonsensically drenched in arrogance.

Thanks once again


Tejwant Singh


Feb 20, 2012
very interesting topic...

my first thoughts on this are that no one can really label themselves as a humble person...usually it is others that see the humilty in ones actions.

the idea of humilty is that one doesn't waste energy on thinking about themselves all the time and instead see's himself as a servant to All (God). How does one feel when they are acknowledged, or when they are complimented...some people lap it up and inside feel pride...others feel strange when such compliments are given out because naturally they are not focused on themselves.

And is it through grace that being humble through effort becomes True and Pure Humilty in ones character that no longer needs labelling and that person just is that way naturally?

one line mentioned above "a humble person would withdraw from the competition if someone else applies for the same job or pursues the same customer. Submitting to others will not lead to your self-interest in business or in any other realm"

I feel a humble person in the above scenario can go into the job interview and participate truthfully and honestly and not have a single thought of getting the job ahead of others using any other mean...or feels they need it more than someone else.
and if this humble person doesn't get the job, then feels appreciative to the play of life that provided the opportunity.

Does being Humble go hand in hand with the strength of your faith in God...i.e. that if you did withdraw from an interview to allow someone else to give the job, that you have faith that when the time is right, another opportunity will arise...or do you collapse to the fear of never getting a job.

I really believe that if we remain humble and our thoughts and inner feeling is looking upon everything as serving God, then God (creation) will provide ample opportunity to serve (be it in a job or anything else).

Maybe one day i can live this :)

and what of this line "embrace pride, alongside with the rest of the egoist virtues" i just can't agree with this comment...the world is already a dog eat dog world...

Just my thoughts...nothing more

God Bless

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