Narcissism vs. Humility

There are many books, articles and studies that warn us of the dangers of not exercising humility. Humility is not hospitality, courtesy, or a kind and friendly demeanor. Humility has nothing to do with being meek, weak or indecisive. Perhaps more surprising, it does not entail shunning publicity. Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness and vanity. Narcissism on the other hand, is an exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements with a constant need for attention, affirmation and praise.

Fame is equated with success and being self-referential has become the norm. We are encouraged to pump ourselves full of alarming self-confidence. A serious problem can emerge when vigorous individuals intermingle with narcissism that combines persons behaving in a self-absorbed way; psychologists have known narcissism to be a formal personality disorder for some and a real impediment to their forming healthy relationships.

Friendships and marriages are dissolved over angry words. Resentments divide families and co-workers. Prejudices separates race from race and religion from religion. Reputations are destroyed by malicious gossip. Greed puts enmity between rich and poor. Wars are fought over arrogant assertions. The narcissist lacks self-awareness and empathy and is often hypersensitive to criticism or perceived insults. The individual frequently exaggerates contributions and claims to be an expert at many different things. If you are part of an organization with a leader exhibiting such characteristics you have a problem. However, narcissism is not a fair label to apply to any person who thinks differently and has the courage to assert or act on their convictions.

Humility on the other hand is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demand of others. Resolve to work on your own humility and you will begin to notice and appreciate its power all around you. Humility as a virtue is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Humility dissipates anger and heals old wounds. Humility allows us to see the dignity and worth of all God’s people. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power seeker. Here are some suggestions for identifying if you are humble:

  • Embrace and promote a spirit of service
  • Be passionately curious
  • Resist falling for your own publicity
  • Know what you do not know
  • Listen, even to the weird ideas
  • Never underestimate the competition

Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self-worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons. Some would consider humility to be a psychological malady that interferes with success. However, wealth, power or status gained at the expense of others brings only anxiety never peace and love.