Thoughts on ‘improper humility’ and all that

Often, when I sit in contemplation and think about things I found that I had difficulty.  It felt as it there was a wall before me, preventing me from doing anything.  I kept calling it “guilt”.  Over time, I wondered about it:  was it guilt at all?  And then, one day, I said something about it that was interesting.

I first began by saying that the “guilt is not guilt”.  That is to say, what I was feeling was not guilt at all, but something else.  As I thought about it, I said that the guilt is, in actually, an ‘improper humility’.  In other words, its a result of a humility that is not aligned with ones condition and growth.

But what is humility?


To me, humility means an awareness of ones situation in life.  Humility is really knowing where one stands in life and the world.  In that respect, it means knowing ones place.  In this way, humility entails an acknowledging of ones self and ones condition.  This requires, of course, that a person cannot be humble until they are able to acknowledge.  Many people, I think, cannot learn humility because they are not able, for some reason or another, of acknowledging these things.

Acknowledgement often entails things like:

  • A knowledge of ones self.   This means an awareness of ones traits, good and bad.
  • Experience in life and the world.   This means living with all the suffering and happiness life entails.
  • A tendency to be honest and admit the truth.   This entails growth and maturity and to see things as they are.

With these one can see that humility takes a lot of ones self and being to develop.  In other words, humility not ‘an emotion’ but a state of mind.  Because of this, it requires that our mind and self be sufficiently developed and mature in order for it to appear.  This makes it so that humility is a reflection of how one lives their life.  In fact, humility is a way of life.

The natural pattern of humility is that it tends to create a number of senses such as:

  • An awareness that one is not all-powerful.
  • An awareness that one is ‘small’ in the world.

With this we see that humility is actually an acknowledging of life’s power over us.  In this way, we know our place in the world and know that we are not like gods.

There are many levels and ways that this acknowledging is done.  One does not just say, “I acknowledge life’s power” and that’s it.  In fact, its because of the many ways of acknowledging this fact that makes humility so hard to achieve.  One could say, for example, that there is even a range of acknowledgment, from superficial to deep.  Naturally, the deeper the humility the harder it is to attain.  One could also say that there is a range of acknowledgment from intellectual to intuitive.  Intellectual humility is only understanding the concept.  Intuitive humility is when it is sensed as a reality.  Naturally, the later is harder to achieve.  With this we can see that there are many manifestations in how it appears.

It seems, to me, that humility tends to create several naturally appearing stances toward life such as:

  • We must follow life.
  • We must not act above life.

In this way, humility tends to create a ‘life primacy’ stance in life, of placing life first, as the ‘great reality’ or ‘great fact’.  In so doing, humility makes us follow life and take its lead.  In this way, humility as if makes us “life’s children”, so to speak.  One of the effects of this is that it makes it so that humility makes one closer to life.  In fact, without humility a person will never know life and grow, in my opinion.  As a result of this, its very important to develop a sense of humility in life.

I should point out that when I say ‘life’ above, it can be looked at from many ways and angles.  In general, it refers to ‘life-as-fact’, or ‘reality’, or ones condition, or a reference to the world.  ‘Life’ is “that” which we live in.  This refers to many things:

  • Material life.  This is a reference to our environment, our health, our wealth, and so on.
  • The knowing of life.  This refers to what we are aware of and know about the world.
  • Mystical life.  This is the awareness of the unknowns about life.
  • Spiritual life.  This refers to a deeper sense of life as an individual and as a sense of god.  In the end, I believe, one finds that ‘life is god’.

All these create the ‘great fact of life’ and encompass what is our life.  Because of this, one can see that humility is very much rooted in an awareness of life, the world, and ones self in it.  In that respect, humility places in the ‘center of life’.


I said that ‘improper humility’ was caused by:

  1. A humility that is not true.  This primarily means that one does not see life as above ones self in the correct way and context.  In other words, ones humility is lacking in some way.
  2. A lack of self-esteem.  These refers to a failure of how one see’s one self in the world.  More specifically, it refers to the fact that, to have humility, one must feel that one has ‘worth’ and ‘value’ in the world.

These two actually create a basic ‘humility dilemma’.  This is because humility, which emphasizes ones smallness, conflicts with self-esteem, which is having value of oneself.  They seem to contradict one another and seem incompatible.  In some respects, it creates a great inner conflict.   In actuality, though, they as if complement each other, creating a balance.  Its this dilemma that makes humility ‘dynamic’ and varied and continually changing.  To be more accurate, its this dilemma that makes humility a continual struggle and accomplishment.  This shows that much of the struggle of humility is between trying to find a compromise between ones smallness in the world and valuing ones self.  For many people, I believe, this battle is too much and there is a continual avoidance of it all.  As a result of this, people tend to lean to one side or the other.  That is to say, we see two patterns of thought that are common signs of ‘improper humility’:

  1. A degradation of self.
  2. A glorification of self.

In other words, without reconciling the two one goes to one side or the other.  This is the easy ‘improper humility’.   There is another sign of ‘improper humility’, what can be described as ‘vague humility’.  This is actually what I was feeling.  Its an inability to find a ‘stable humility’.  In other words, its having difficulty finding the correct balance.  In this condition, one must search for the balance, which is often no easy task.


As I said above, humility requires a sense of ones standing in the world which requires a world conception or a conception of how the world works.    In addition to this, we have a self conception, a conception of who we are.  Both of these affect our humility in ways such as:

  • Personal variation.  Because this varies with each person it only stands to reason that each person has a different level of humility based on our conceptions.  That is to say, our humility varies with each persons conceptions.
  • Growth variation.  Often, when we grow, we grow out of our previous world and self conceptions because we have changed and, as a result, our previous sense of humility fails to work.  This causes a tendency to lose the humility that we previously had.  This requires us to have to, continually throughout our life, relearn humility to fit our growth and new conceptions.  This makes it so that humility is not something you ‘learn’ and that’s it.  In actuality, we have to continually relearn humility.  For people who seek growth this is more of an issue as, because of their growth, they have to continually relearn it much more than the general population.  Oftentimes, when a person has to relearn humility it is a good sign, as it means they have grown in some way.
  • Self-esteem.  World and self conception greatly affect ones self-esteem.  That is to say, ones self-esteem is based on how one perceives the world and how one fits into it.  If one cannot fit in ones world then ones self-esteem will tend to erode over time.

These show how ones world and self conception are critical for the development of ‘proper humility’.  In many ways, a person who seeks humility must really make a concerted effort to develop a good general world and self conception.  In fact, this shows that there are actually two forms of humility:

  1. Naturally appearing humility.  This is a reference to the normal humility that appears in people.
  2. Deliberate humility.  This is a reference to how certain people will deliberately seek humility on their own effort going beyond the limits of naturally appearing humility.  As part of the process of deliberate humility they will seek to gain a better, deeper, and well-rounded world and self conception.


I should point out that false humility is not the same as ‘improper humility’.  In actuality, false humility is a form of self-deception and generally lacks humility.  ‘Improper humility’ is when a person has the traits of humility but find that its not working.  False humility is often more like a show or a performance . . . an act . . . that fools the individual person and the people around them.  Often, they try to enact the form of humility that their culture or religion says is humility.  False humility is especially seen in religion as a result.


Some forms of humility are illusionary and only appear like humility.  I’ve seen many people ascribe humility to things that are not humility.  I have found that a lot of these are manifested as character traits in people.  In other words, some character traits resemble humility, such as:

  • A calm character.
  • A casual  character.
  • A depressive character.
  • A quiet character.
  • An introverted character.

Character traits, such as these, often give the appearance of humility.  I’ve seen many cases where people with character traits, such as these, have no humility at all.  To be frank, I have even been fooled by these character traits in myself, mistaking them as humility.  This shows that a part of learning about ones self is to see if one is being deceived about if they are actually displaying humility or not.


Overall, I tend to see humility as being far more extensive, I think, than most people.  To me, its more than “a modest or low view of one’s importance” (a definition from a dictionary).  It is a general attitude about life and ones place in life, making it very critical for how one lives in the world.  Humility is not just an emotion or character trait.  It is something that requires a great deal of ones self to attain.  It requires great honesty.  It requires a balancing of many things (ones insignificance and ones value, for example).  It requires healthy world and self conceptions.  It is something that we are continually striving for and which we must relearn, in new ways, throughout our life.  The effect of humility is that it creates a closeness to life.  In many ways, it places us in the ‘center of life’ and makes us the ‘children of life’ and ‘followers of life’.   That makes it a very important trait to develop.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen 

This entry was posted in Life in general, Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Religion and religious stuff and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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