Art thou pale for weariness of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, wandering companionless among the stars that have a different birth, and ever changing, like a joyless eye that finds no object worth it's constancy? Thou chosen sister of the Spirit, that gazes on thee til in thee it pities. . . -Shelley (To The Moon)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Flawed Concept of Humility

I'm not competitive. When people do things better than me if I am interested in why that is I may or may not try to find out. I am a teacher, though. I like to share information, lead by example, encourage, and inspire people. Just as I am not threatened by those who can do something better than me, I am equally no longer threatened to do something better than someone else.

I found, growing up, that the concept of humility was being taught in conflict over its meaning. I was shown that "humility" was to be attained by dumbing myself down so that I didn't make anyone else feel bad about themselves (for trying in vain to "do" something). Implicit in this flawed but institutionalized concept of humility was a threat. If I did something better they would consider me conceited. Here is an example: I was a good singer, but I was picked on with this question: "what makes you think you are so good?" I'm sure that someone reading this might now be thinking that I must have been conceited to provoke such a question, for it was a legitimate question, just as it was also a threat and a taunt.

In grade school I wanted to start a singing club at recess, but no one wanted to join. "We aren't good singers, you'll just show off," one girl said (one also said, "it's too much work"). What she meant was - you'll just show us up. Instead, though, she chose words that blamed me and tried to convince me that somehow I was going to sound better than them on purpose - like it was a decision I had made to hurt them. We were just nine years old.

We are believing that how or what people think about themselves determines the degree to which they are creative and talented. We believe that if someone doesn't think they are talented, they will no longer use their talent and it will cease to exist. It's not true, it's just what we believe. Even the talented themselves believe it, and that's why so many talented and creative people are suffering from blocks. The countless courses and therapeutic workshops devoted to "unblocking" these people can attest. Just as we believe, though, that people who believe they are not talented will stop creating, we also believe the opposite - that people who are not talented will become so if they believe themselves to be. We do not like to allow people to believe in themselves as talented and creative people, because it doesn't fit with our version of humility. A person's talent and aptitude for creativity is not negotiable. It doesn't go away or diminish. We are either psychologically able to access our talents or not.

Humility, to me, is simply being creative. When I'm being creative, I'm relinquishing my ego and submitting to the world, submitting to inspiration, to nature, ultimate being and nothingness. When creating music, I am humble. To try and suppress my creativity in the name of humility is to infect my humility with humiliation.

I know that I was one of the best singers in my grade school, but I also know that I was one of the most self-conscious, obliging, passive-aggressives there, too. Being able to sing has never changed, but I grew out of being passive-aggressive as the necessity to be graceful presented itself. By graceful I mean light. By light I mean illumination.


  1. This is a very fine post, Nicole. I hope you will write more. I shall be your follower!

  2. I ought to have given reasons for the previous comment. I like the way you have combined personal revelation & self-awareness with valuable & original insights into creativity & humility. On the opposite side, I don't well understand passive-aggressive, no matter how many times someone defines it for me. But I think you have even hinted what it means in your anecdote of the singing club at nine years old and the growing out of the p-a thing to gracefulness, light, illumination---and implicitly a grateful awareness of your gifts.

  3. I was in a grade 6/7 split level class. the teacher gave us some silly hand-out that asked us if we thought we were a good friend and how we could be a better friend. I made a social commentary by putting up my hand and saying "I'd be a better friend if I wasn't so good at everything." What I really meant is described in your post. I lost friends for saying that but at least I had an awareness that wasn't going to allow me to submit to the group. I believe that this is somewhat of a Canadian thing.. thanks for your writing.

  4. Wow, I can't really believe what I'm reading. I've been a victim of this for literally years, and you've articulated how I've felt so well, and you've also provided some insight and possible explanation for the behaviour. And I still am affected by it now to a degree. It's why I've been so afraid to open and show what I can really do in the band.

    Thank you for posting this.