Reply To: What is humility?

JD Stillwater

    Is this a conversation about words, or concepts?

    If you have a different or better word for that feeling—inherent in the experience of awe—that comes from recognizing at a deep emotional level that I am a very small part of something much grander than myself, an experience that goads me to be more cooperative and generous with every one and every thing in my environment, then fine, use your word. In common parlance and in the psyche literature, the word for that feeling is “humility.” Adjacent concepts among awe researchers include “the small self,” “prosocial tendencies” and “awe-prone.”

    I turn that feeling (whatever we call it) into a growthful stance when I enter a conversation willing to be proven wrong, and to learn from the experiences and wisdom of others. It is a powerful tempering influence on dogma, self-righteousness, and arrogance. Science embodies it in the form of null hypotheses, control groups, and peer review. It is easy to recognize in others. It is also easy to recognize the lack of it.

    Ben Shapiro, for one example, may have wonderful self-knowledge, but his lack of what I would call humility is striking and off-putting, and it makes him appear far more ignorant than he probably is. It’s not a good look. It causes him to casually inflict  humiliation on others, people who enter the conversation with less power and privilege.

    If we can agree that there is such an experience (of awe) and stance (of open-heartedness), and that these are highly adaptive within social species like humans, then we can move on to finding the right word for it (or agree to disagree about the semantics).