Humility is not lack of courage; it is not the poverty of spirit which shrinks from encounter. So far from destroying moral force, it protects and strengthens it; it sternly represses the little vanities through which strength of character evaporates and is lost. It is a noble trait in peasant or in prince, in the cottage of the workman or in the mansion of the millionaire…
An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith
Entry #23 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
.Humility is the true cure for many a needless heartache.
It is easy to look down on others; to
look down on ourselves is the difficulty.
Humility is a divine veil which covers our
good deeds, and hides them from our eyes.
–St. John Climacas
Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.
Modest humility is beauty’s crown; for the beautiful
is a hidden thing, and shrinks from its own power.
We pass now from the strong and active virtue of self-help, to the gentle and passive virtue of humility. In doing so, we quickly discover that it requires a sound moral judgment to strike the right balance between humility and self-reliance, and between meekness and self-respect. The true man is both meek and self-reliant, humble and yet by no means incapable of self-assertion. The really strong man is the most thoroughly gentle of men, and the genuinely self-confident man is the one who is most truly humble in his regard for the rights and interests of others.
We have great need of this particular grace, and we ought to study its relation to our life in general; for we should often have reason to be ashamed of our most brilliant actions if the world could see the motives from which they spring.
Humility has been well defined as “a simple and lowly estimation of one’s self.” When practically thought of, it is mostly looked upon in a negative light, and considered as the absence of, or opposite to, pride.
The general line of human thinking rather tends in the opposite direction; but experience teaches that if we wish to be great, we shall do well to begin by being little. If we desire to construct a strong and noble character, we must not forget that the greatest lives have always rested on foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.
Humility does not consist in a disposition falsely to underrate ourselves, “but in being willing to waive our rights, and descend to a lower place than is our due; in being ready to admit our liability to error, and in freely owning our faults when conscious of having been wrong; and, in short, in not being over-careful of our own dignity.”
This virtue is the friend of intellect instead of its enemy, because humility is both a moral instinct which seeks truth, and a moral instrument for attaining truth. It leads us to base our knowledge on truth; it also leads us truthfully to recognize the real measure of our capacity.
All really great men have been humble men in spirit and temper. Such was Lincoln; such was Washington. Izaac Walton relates how George Herbert helped a poor man whose horse had fallen under his load, laying off his coat for that purpose, aiding him to unload, and then again to load his cart. When his friends rebuked Herbert for this service he said that “the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight, for he felt bound, so far as was in his power, to practice that for which he prayed.”
An instance often cited, but always beautiful, is that of Sir Philip Sidney when mortally wounded at Zutphen as described by an old writer:
“Being thirsty with an excess of bleeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought him; but as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along, casting up his eyes at the bottle; which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his lips before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man with these words: ‘Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.'” It mattered nothing to Sir Philip that he was an officer and therefore of higher standing than the poor private. He humbled himself and did a kindly action, and his noble deed will never be forgotten.
Humility is not lack of courage; it is not the poverty of spirit which shrinks from encounter. So far from destroying moral force, it protects and strengthens it; it sternly represses the little vanities through which strength of character evaporates and is lost. It is a noble trait in peasant or in prince, in the cottage of the workman or in the mansion of the millionaire.
Trajan, the Roman emperor, has set us an example of condescension and affability. He was equal, indeed, to the greatest generals of antiquity; but the sounding titles bestowed upon him by his admirers did not elate him. All the oldest soldiers he knew by name. He conversed with them with the greatest familiarity, and never retired to his tent before he had visited the camps. He refused the statues which the flattery of friends wished to erect to him, and he ridiculed the follies of an enlightened nation that could pay adoration to cold inanimate pieces of marble. His public entry into Rome gained him the hearts of the people; for he appeared on foot, and showed himself an enemy to parade and ostentatious equipage. His wish to listen to the just complaints of his subjects, caused his royal abode to be called “the public palace”; and his people learned to love him as greatly as they admired him.
True humility is not cowardly, cringing, or abjectly weak. It is strength putting itself by the side of weakness through sympathy, and not weakness abasing itself in the presence of that which it pretends is greater than itself. The humble man is the man who feels his own imperfection, and therefore does not condemn another. The truly humble say very little about their humility, except in rare moments of emotion, but live and labor in quietness for the promotion of the public good.
Sincerity and lowliness of spirit have been often commended, as when the Pythian Apollo rebuked the pompous sacrifice offered at his shrine by a rich Magnesian, and said that he preferred the simple cake and frankincense of a pious Achaean which was offered in humbleness of heart.
Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by false appearances, but lay to heart the story of the farmer who went with his son into a wheatfield to see if it was ready for the harvest. “See, father,” exclaimed the boy, “how straight these stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. These that hang their heads down cannot be good for much.” The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind, and said, “See here, foolish child! This stalk that stood so straight is light-headed, and almost good for nothing; while this that hung its head so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain.”
“Humility is like the violet which grows low, and covers itself with its own leaves, and yet of all flowers, yields the most delicious and fragrant smell.”
This virtue is not to be confounded with mean-spiritedness, or that abject state of feeling which permits a man to surrender the rights of his character to any one who chooses to infringe upon them. While it thinks little of personal considerations, it thinks the more of character and principle. It is really a powerful aid to progress. When we realize how little we know, we shall earnestly strive to know more; when we feel how imperfect is our character, we shall make earnest efforts after improvement.
Phillips Brooks may certainly be ranked among the greatest men of the present generation. He was physically and mentally strong; possessed of a great personality that compelled him to self-assertion; and was self-reliant in a degree attained by but few men of his time. He followed his own convictions, in the face of much opposition, bravely and unflinchingly. But with all his greatness and self-confidence, he was gentle, tolerant, sympathetic, and thoroughly appreciative of the rights of others. He made himself felt everywhere; yet he never indulged in controversy, and never struck back when criticized. He used his strength for the good of the weak; he asserted himself in a meek and humble spirit.
The story of his caring for the children of a poor woman, in the slums of Boston while she went out for needed recreation, shows that in the greatness of his manhood he could stoop to the lowliest tasks; while his unbounded love for children, kept him bright and young down to the very close of his honored career.
To understand this side of his character, we recommend you to read his “Letters to Children,” of which the following, written to his niece, is an excellent example:
“VENICE, August 13, 1882.
“DEAR GERTIE:–When the little children in Venice want to take a bath, they just go down to the front steps of the house and jump off and swim about in the street. Yesterday I saw a nurse standing on the front steps, holding one end of a string, and the other end was tied to a little fellow who was swimming up the street. When he went too far, the nurse pulled in the string, and got her baby home again. Then I met another youngster, swimming in the street, whose mother had tied him to a post by the side of the door, so that when he tried to swim away to see another boy who was tied to another door-post up the street, he couldn’t, and they had to sing out to one another over the water. Is not this a queer city? You are always in danger of running over some of the people and drowning them, for you go about in a boat instead of a carriage, and use an oar instead of a horse. But it is ever so pretty, and the people, especially the children, are very bright and gay and handsome.
“When you are sitting in your room at night, you hear some music under your window, and look out, and there is a boat with a man with a fiddle, and a woman with a voice, and they are serenading you. To be sure, they want some money when they are done, for everybody begs here; but they do it very prettily and are full of fun.
“Tell Susie I did not see the queen this time. She was out of town. But ever so many noblemen and princes have sent to know how Toody was, and how she looked, and I have sent them all her love.
“There must be lots of pleasant things to do at Andover, and I think you must have had a beautiful summer there. Pretty soon now you will go back to Boston. Do go into my house when you get there and see if the doll and her baby are well and happy, but do not carry them off; and make the music-box play a tune, and remember your affectionate uncle, PHILLIPS.”
This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.
Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.
You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.
Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.