To Be Humble

Let us be right. Let us be strong.

Columns From: 1/3/2003 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Let us be right. Let us be strong. Let us be humble. Only then can taking bold action have its best hope of success. This dictum applies to conducting personal affairs, to the running of a business great or small, and to the exercise of statecraft—especially in matters of war and peace.

Achieving rightness, strength and humility takes the utmost of discipline and vigilance. Of the three, humility is the most difficult to attain. Spiritual virtues are always the hardest to attain. It is especially difficult in this case, for once you are sure you are right and sure you are strong, then arrogance is but a breath away.

When arrogance sets in, being right and being strong are most at risk. Arrogance denies uncertainty and forgets that chance is always a factor. Arrogance breeds delusions about rightness and strength. “We can’t be wrong. We can’t be beat. We’re Us!”

A humble spirit, however, knows that truth and moral rectitude sometimes transcend sheer logic. Humility teaches us that we might, in fact, be quite wrong after all. A humble spirit also knows that strength is relative and often fleeting. A humble spirit knows how little can be accomplished by force alone. Humility teaches us that invincibility is an illusion.

When encountered, the natural response to arrogance is resentment and mistrust. No matter how convincingly right or obviously strong you are, arrogance will antagonize your allies, alienate your supporters and chill your friends. Arrogance tempts us to act alone.

Humility is not an innate gift. Humility starts with an honest awareness of past mistakes and of former weaknesses. It develops in seeking forgiveness and is stirred by acts of atonement. Humility is distilled by a sincere commitment to reform. Only in confronting past failings can we find root causes and address them.

If we are leaders, then let us be humble, yet right and strong. Whether we are parents, coaches, church leaders, managers, corporate executives or the commander in chief, we cannot be heroic in our leadership without all three virtues.

Heroes do not always prevail—not in this imperfect world. Lessons may not stick, reforms may fizzle, markets may falter, and enemies may survive. Humility meets these setbacks with patience and resolve.

Where we are not the leaders, then let us heed those leaders who are right, and be apprised by their wisdom. Let us follow those leaders who are strong and be encouraged by their boldness. But to those leaders who are also humble, let us be faithful and true. Then we too can share in their honor. 

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