The story is told about an incident with Booker T Washington not long after he took over the presidency of the Tuskegee Institute. He was walking in a wealthier neighborhood. A lady saw him and, not recognizing him, assumed he might need to make some money, so she asked him if he wanted to make a couple of bucks chopping wood. He had no appointments, so he helped her out. When he carried the wood into the house, the woman’s daughter recognized him and let her mother know who had chopped her wood. She was highly embarrassed and went to apologize the next day. He smiled and told her he was happy to help a friend. His humble attitude so moved her that she began to support his work and she, and her friends, ended up donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.
How easy it would have been for Mr. Washington to take umbrage at the fact that he was asked to chop wood. He could have confronted the lady by asking her if she knew who he was. Instead, he acted with humility and the end result was great things for him and for the institution that he ran. In our day, many people live by the axiom that “he who toots his own horn gets it tooted.” The most interesting side of humility is that we can’t acknowledge that we have it, or we don’t have it. If we acknowledge it in others, then we run the risk of giving them a sense of pride about their humility. Still, humility is a virtue that we can only practice without knowing that we’re doing so. Jesus, after giving an example of seating arrangements at a wedding, finished the example with this: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
In the story Jesus told before the statement I quoted, someone came into a feast and found the most important place to sit and plopped down. The host had to come up to them and say, “Sorry, I meant for someone else to have this seat. There are still a few chairs at the last table.” People like that think of no one but themselves. When they realize that they’re supposed to be humble, or at least act that way, they say negative things about themselves, because, after all, humility is telling other people how bad you are. The truth is that usually, they’re searching for compliments. They want other people tell them that they’re not really that bad. These are people who keep drawing the attention back to themselves. They are like little children who jump up and down waving, “Hey! Look at me! Notice me!” True humility doesn’t come from bad-mouthing ourselves; it comes from recognizing who we are in God’s presence.
From a Christian perspective, truly humble people focus on God and His activities in the world. What’s important is what God is doing, not what they are doing. In general, though, people who humble themselves tends to take an interest in other people. They don’t want to talk about themselves, they want to encourage others. They want to hear the stories that others have. They may answer questions about themselves, but they quickly switch the discussion back to other topics. The key to understanding humility is that when humility is truly being practices, the focus is never on the humble person. Think about it: do you want to be around the person that makes you think that they are the greatest person in the world, or do you want to be around the person who makes you feel like you’re the greatest person in the world. It’s a fine line to live a humble lifestyle – and if you’re truly living it, you won’t realize it.
Oh Lord, it is so hard to be humble because my favorite subject is usually me. Help me to think of others. Help me to see myself as You see me and then show others Your love and let them see themselves as You see them.