Why is Humility Desirable

I would like to give my opinion on the trait of Humility. This quality has been overvalued in India as far as my experience goes. As far as I have been able to make out the reasons why humility is valued here are as under:

  1. India is a feudal society and is a land of brutal injustice. People who have too high an opinion of themselves are regarded as potential troublemakers who will incite others to speak out and protest.
  2. India is authoritarian and elders are meant to be respected. Not doing so leads to unpleasant consequences as far as family life and career is concerned. If you are a youngster then this paragraph may be very important to you.  Take the advice of Confucius who said:

“At home, a young man should be a good son, when outside he should treat others like his brothers, his behaviour should be one of trustworthy and proper, and should love the multitude at large and keep himself close to people of benevolence and morality. If after all these activities, he has any energy to spare, he should read widely to stay cultivated.”

(Sourced from: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/12-famous-confucius-quotes-on-education-and-learning )

This is as far as maintaining appearances for worldly purposes is concerned. As far as whether humility is really desirable, I was influenced when I was young by the following passage from Bertrand Russell’s book, The Conquest of Happiness:

Unnecessary modesty has a great deal to do with envy. Modesty is considered a virtue, but for my part I am very doubtful whether, in its more extreme forms, it deserves to be so regarded. Modest people need a great deal of reassuring, and often do not dare to attempt tasks which they are quite capable of performing. Modest people believe themselves to be outshone by those with whom they habitually associate. They are therefore particularly prone to envy, and, through envy, to unhappiness and ill will.

For my part, I think there is much to be said for bringing up a boy to think himself a fine fellow. I do not believe that any peacock envies another peacock his tail, because every peacock is persuaded that his own tail is the finest in the world. The consequence of this is that peacocks are peaceable birds. Imagine how unhappy the life of a peacock would be if he had been taught that it is wicked to have a good opinion of oneself. Whenever he saw another peacock spreading out his tail, he would say to himself:

‘I must not imagine that my tail is better than that, for that would be conceited, but oh, how I wish it were! That odious bird is so convinced of his own magnificence! Shall I pull out some of his feathers? And then perhaps I need no longer fear comparison with him.’

Or perhaps he would lay a trap for him, and prove that he was a wicked peacock who had been guilty of unpeacocky behaviour, and he would denounce him to the assembly of the leaders. Gradually he would establish the principle that peacocks with specially fine tails are almost always wicked, and that the wise ruler in the peacock kingdom would seek out the humble bird with only a few draggled tail feathers. Having got this principle accepted, he would get all the finest birds put to death, and in the end a really splendid tail will become only a dim memory of the past. Such is the victory of envy masquerading as morality. But where every peacock thinks himself more splendid than any of the others, there is no need for all this repression. Each peacock expects to win the first prize in the competition, and each, because he values his own peahen, believes that he has done so.

(Sourced from: https://russell-j.com/beginner/COH-TEXT.HTM )

At the same time humility is very important if you are interested in spirituality and want to seek God. The Sufi poet Rumi spoke eloquently about the need for humility. Otherwise you are controlled by your ego and a very large part of spiritual progress depends on whether you are free of the ego or not.

Bertrand Russell was of course a hedonist and did not believe in God or religion. According to Rumi the world is an illusion and only God is real. So if you have two people talking at cross purposes here it is because of the difference in their world views.

I’ll end here. Please comment on this blog. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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