My husband and I have a running joke. Whenever I give him a compliment, he replies, “I know.” Not a thank you or a feigned denial, just “I know”. It all started when our oldest son was in preschool. We would compliment him as we might any of our children on a specific skill, talent or job well done and he would reply, “I know.”
The first few times we laughed. After all, you had to admire his confidence! Then we were a little irritated. There’s something unsettling about giving a compliment to someone who doesn’t seem to need one; especially when they’re under the age of ten!
It wasn’t long before we started correcting him and reminding him that the polite response was “Thank you” not “I know!” But, the impression it made on my husband and I was permanent and I now have come to expect that response when I praise my partner.
As much as I admire my son’s confidence, I had to be concerned about his humility. I wanted to make sure that he had an accurate view of his abilities AND his limitations. But these days, it’s hard to find good examples of humility in the secular world. It’s not cool to be humble. In fact, these days you have to exaggerate your strengths a bit just to keep up. I believe they call it spin. Now that he’s in middle school he can laugh at himself. He now proclaims to be “the most humble person is the world!”. Obviously, we have a strange sense of humor in our house!
After listening to a recording of Fr. Robert Barron’s “Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues” I came to a better understanding of what humility should look like. In it, Fr. Barron talks about humility coming from the word “humus” which means “from the earth”. Humility, then, is a grounded view of who you are strengths and weaknesses. It is NOT self-loathing or weakness or a sense of worthlessness. True humility is a confident knowledge of your abilities AND a comfortable acceptance of your inabilities.
It struck me that humility should play a larger role in our human relationships. How many marriages have conflict because neither of the parties can objectively consider the other’s point of view. How many children have conflicts with their parents for the same reason. For that matter, how many people have problems with the Church because they cannot open their minds to try and understand the perspective of it’s leaders. If you are not even willing to listen to another person’s views much less admit that their views might have merit or (gasp!) be right, how are you supposed to have effective communication? Without the existence of an open line of communication, how can two people maintain their relationship? Without relationships, how can we achieve peace?
I know a lot of women who have healthy, normal and imperfect marriages, myself included. Many of them have learned to listen to their spouses over the years, consider their views and sometimes, even, just bite their own tongues. But, I am continually surprised at women (& men!) who don’t even attempt to see the world from their spouse’s perspective. Where is the humility there? Considering another person’s perspective implies that you are willing to accept that you may be wrong and that you care about the person you are listening to. That sounds like a good foundation for a relationship if I’ve ever heard one!
So, if you’re having conflicts in your relationships with your parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, or coworkers; I challenge you to do something unconventional–practice humility.
Shelve your ideas and feelings for a moment and listen to their feelings and ideas. Don’t forget to share your side when it’s time but remember the line from the Peace Prayer of St. Francis? “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand.”