“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” –Socrates
We live in a world where we praise those with knowledge, success and independence. The more you know, succeed and do it yourself, the more secure you are deemed to be. This perspective makes sense when so many of us struggle with the unknown, the uncertain and the undependable.
However, the smartest, successful and happiest people I’ve met admit there’s a lot they don’t know, don’t have and can’t do on their own. As a result, they’re always curious, willing to try new things and reach out to others.
Wise Ignorance. “Socratic wisdom” is a type of humility that leads to true wisdom. It means we are only as wise as the awareness of our ignorance. When we are aware of how little we know in the scope of all that can be understood, we realize how tentative our beliefs are and how likely it is that many of them are mistaken. It is this wise ignorance that opens us to new and different thinking that creates breakthroughs, improvements and innovation.
Many view humility as a weakness. Some see it as self-deprecation, the practice of knocking yourself first as a defense against others knocking you. To me, humility is having an accurate view of yourself as one small yet important piece of a giant puzzle that is working on completing itself. Whether you are CEO of a company, a solopreneur or a stay at home parent, the humble person knows that all people play an equally important function in the ultimate success of the whole.
Humility is the reason focus groups of customers and prospects are vital to successful marketing. When you live in the bubble of your company’s “group think,” you’re likely to miss the essential details that can make or break your market share.
It’s also what makes a diversity of thought integral to meaningful, productive conversations. Social media has created echo chambers with algorithms that “feed” us information that aligns with what we already think, creating rigid belief systems that are difficult for us to be objective about (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix).
What Humility Looks Like. Humble people recognize that they don’t know everything, aren’t right about everything and can’t do everything themselves. They are resilient enough to withstand being ignorant, wrong and interdependent on others. They can let go of their cherished ideas when they discover more enlightening information. Humble people are genuinely authentic. And in that authenticity is their power.
The opposite of humility is arrogant pride. This kind of know it all pride repels people because it sets a false standard that most people know is impossible to achieve. On the other hand, humility is more realistic, which makes you more approachable. When you are confident enough to think less about yourself, you are strong enough to think more about others without worrying about harming yourself in the process. Instead, quite the opposite happens. As you support and lift others, you receive the same benefit.
Humble Leadership. Leaders of all kinds, formal and informal, within organizations, communities and families, can more powerfully inspire others to their greatness with humility. These leaders humbly do their part, knowing they don’t have the complete solution for anything. Instead, they free others to think for themselves, broaden their perspective and emerge their brilliance to collaborate for answers. Humble leaders always rely on the adage that two heads are better than one.
Humility empowers others to voice their ideas with more confidence because they know they will be valued and respected on their own merits without being compared to others. People are free to take more risks in thought, word and deed because humility accepts failure as part of the human condition that contributes to its ultimate success.
The humble leader creates an atmosphere that allows people to be themselves without fear of retaliation, fault-finding or humiliation. They can do this because they do the same for themselves. They limit their self-expectations for unreasonable perfection and grandeur. They humble themselves to accept that they live in the great unknown, an unstable yet fertile place where all possibilities begin.
Prideful arrogance cannot tolerate the unknown. It must claim to know all and be all to feel safe and secure. This expectation is a huge and impossible burden for anyone to bear for long. Underneath that false and weighty shell is a weak underbelly that is fearful and vulnerable.
Humility is the ultimate strength because it relies on its relative insignificance and ignorance as the gateway to reap the greatest possible returns through continuous learning, growing and connecting. It never believes it has arrived anywhere for too long. Humble people find true power in what is still yet to be discovered rather than in what is already known.
Work your Inner Genius. Humility is a liberating virtue you can use to achieve more authentic success and happiness. Try cultivating humility in your life today by answering these questions.
1. Along with your hard work and efforts, how did others contribute to your achievements to date?
2. How can you continue to have confidence in yourself while at the same time recognize that you don’t have all the knowledge and answers?
3. What can you do to ensure that you respect, value, and celebrate others’ talents and abilities, especially when they differ from yours?
Thanks for reading. Until next week,