I came across the book Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson and was intrigued. The subject of humility has always interested me. In fact, it doesn’t sound very humble but one of my favorite quotes is:

I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. It is as much a departure from the truth to underestimate oneself as it is to exaggerate one’s power

— Sherlock Holmes

I do not read that as Detective Holmes saying it is okay to brag. I see him as saying that telling the truth is more important than false humility. Holmes is not suggesting you go around spouting off about your achievements or skills. He is simply saying that you should not underestimate yourself – nothing about grandstanding. True humility is not feeling “less than,” it is actually having power and choosing not to use it. It is about putting the needs of others ahead of yourself.

This has merit ONLY if you are in some way above someone else. A slave that puts his master ahead of himself is not showing the character trait humility, he is a victim of humiliation – a word that comes from the same Latin root Humilitas. That is the subject of this book.

This book is a great look at how our outlook on humility has changed over time. In addition, Dickson explains the role of humility in leadership. Before the time of Jesus Christ and the rise of Christianity, it was understood that the way to succeed was to stand on a soapbox and expound about all your accomplishments. The scriptural examples I am listing here are from my research, not from the book – but further show how important humility is in the Christian gospels.

  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. John 4:6
  • When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom. – Proverbs 11:2
  • Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. – James 4:10
  • For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. – Luke 14:11
  • Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. – Philippians 2:3
  • A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. – Proverbs 29:23
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3
  • Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips. Proverbs 27:2
  • Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:4
  • But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. – Luke 14:10
  • But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. – Psalms 37:11

Now, before you decide that Humilitas is a religious book, let me assure you it is not in the least religious. It is instead a scholarly look at how our entire view of humility has changed over time. One man’s life (whether you believe him to be divine or not) totally changed humanity.

Yes, at times it seems that we are reverting back to the Roman Circus that preceded Jesus. Politics and performance aside, Trump isn’t the least bit humble. But, it is not just him. Examples of humility in politics are hard to come by at all these days. His opponents certainly sound more polished but if you listen to the words and thoughts coming out of their mouths, none of them are putting the needs of others ahead of themselves.

That is the problem with humility. It doesn’t get press and thus doesn’t get you elected. It is there though in the quiet leaders we all know and love. She is the neighbor who looks out for you. He is the friend that checks in when he hasn’t heard from you. She is the nurse that works long hours in dangerous conditions. He is the soldier standing on the front line and not shying away. She is the police officer who runs toward the danger in her calling to “protect and serve.” He is the workout buddy that spots you when you struggle with a heavy weight. She is the teacher that often spends more time serving our children than her own. He is the friendly face that holds open a door as you approach. They are all who strive to do better each day and lead by example.

I love what C.S. Lewis said about humility:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less

— C.S. Lewis

In Humilitas, John Dickson has put together a book that I think is a must-read. Old and young alike can benefit from developing this quality of true greatness.

by Chris Doelle