4 ‘Humble’ Things That Aren’t Humble

If you're trying hard to be humble, you're not being humble.

When Ben Franklin turned 20, he was determined to become virtuous. He put together a list of 12 virtues (frugality, sincerity, justice, etc.), and worked out a system of regularly focusing on one virtue a week while tracking his progress as he went.

He showed his finished list of values to a minister who pointed out that Franklin was missing humility—the queen of all virtues. Franklin added it to the list bringing the total to 13.

After spending many months working on the virtues, Franklin’s friend asked how he was doing with humility. Franklin responded, “I can’t boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

The point is, if you’re working hard at acting humble, you’re not actually humble.

Virtues are a lot like garments; you can put them on on without owning them.

Virtues are a lot like garments; you can put them on on without owning them. It’s tricky because we don’t just fool the people around us by playing dress up—we fool ourselves.

Humility is much easier to manufacture than it is to internalize, and as long as we’re more focused on humility’s appearance, we’ll never experience its transformation.

So What is Humility?

Scripture’s packed with references to humility (something God honors), and most of the time it’s used as an antonym for pride (something God despises).

The classic C. S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity is a helpful place to start:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Humility’s simplicity is what makes it so difficult. It’s simply thinking about, promoting the interests of and celebrating others more than yourself.

Instead of focusing on others, we tend to promote, celebrate and focus on ourselves with a little self-depreciating twist to give the appearance that we really don’t take ourselves that seriously.

Here are four common “humble” things that aren’t actually humility:

1. The humble brag

I used to work with this guy who’d say things like, “My wife’s always telling me that people think I’m weird and socially awkward because I use professor-like vocabulary words instead of talking like a normal person.”

Let me translate that for you: “Folks think I’m weird BECAUSE I’M SO STINKIN’ SMART!”

A humble brag is the delightful technique of saying something awesome about yourself, but washing it down with a chaser of faux-criticism or depreciation.

Only one person in a group can never seem to recognize a humble brag, and that’s the person who’s using it. They’re too busy trying to force feed you a spoonful of their awesomeness.

2. Most Uses of the Word ‘Humbled’

When I had my first viral blog post, I was a bit of a jerk. It was such a big surprise that I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way that didn’t seem awful. So instead of just talking about it, I would post screenshots and stats and say ridiculous things like, “I’m so humbled that so many people are reading my blog today.”

I wasn’t so humbled about it—that was complete nonsense. I was excited. And you know what? That’s OK. What’s not OK is putting on some false sense of humility in order to draw attention to myself.

Now whenever I hear someone tell me how humbled they are, I recognize it for the bull it is. (Also, I can’t read “I’m so humbled” without hearing it in Jeremy Iron’s Scar voice.) Just tell me about the awesome thing you’re experiencing so I can celebrate with you.

3. Not Taking a Compliment

Newsflash: Humble people can take a compliment.

It’s funny to see someone spend an hour doing their hair and picking out an outfit to see them respond to a compliment on their appearance with, “Oh, stop. I look hideous.”

One’s inability to take a compliment (even if they’re sincere) is more about pride than it’s about humility.

Humble people have strengths, positive qualities and nice outfits. It’s OK. Say thank you and move on.

By acknowledging  your gifts, you glorify the Lord. Humility doesn’t parade around in the skinny jeans of false piety.

4. Giving the Glory to the Lord

Sometimes when you compliment a Christian on a job well done they’ll give you this kind of response: “Oh, that was just the Lord working through me” or “All the glory goes to the Lord.”

This is the Christian mash-up of not taking a compliment and holy humble bragging. It’s the worst kind of religiosity because it passes off the compliment while doubling down on self-righteousness.

By acknowledging  your gifts, you glorify the Lord. Humility doesn’t parade around in the skinny jeans of false piety.

Truly humble people are amazing to be around. Want to be like them? Focusing on being humble will never get you there. Instead, start by looking for ways to celebrate the awesomeness of others and stop looking for ways to promote your own.

This article was originally posted at jaysondbradley.com




John commented…

'When I had my first viral blog post, I was a bit of a jerk." is:

a) A humble humble
b) A humble brag
C) A braggy humble
d) A braggy brag

Answer is b. It's a humble brag... in a post about humble brags.

Kara Howell


Kara Howell commented…

I like the sentiment behind this article, however, I guess I struggle with its points since I happen to date someone who has gone a bit "viral" and I know when he says, "I am humbled by..." - he truly is. He says it from a sincere place in his heart that he explains that he simply did what he did because he loves to sing and is happy that it has had a positive impact on so many people. And he does "thank God" for the good things that have come about because of his gifted talents - it's not self-doubt, it's not trying to sound holier-than-thou - he IS thankful and grateful. So, I guess what I am struggling with in this article is it seems a bit too generalized and doesn't leave room for people who use certain phraseology to genuinely express a humble attitude. In some ways, it comes off a bit as an attack I guess. I appreciate the idea, just not sure of its execution. Good thoughts to consider and check yourself with though!



Kim commented…

I have a hard time with the last point as a general statement. Here's why.
Sometimes we pray for God to guide us, to give us the strength, to provide for us the words, and when we do that and experience him working through us, it is only right to give Him the credit. When we know that in our own strength we cannot do something, and the Lord does it through us - it is beautiful and a witness to his work in our lives! So a pastor, for example, who gives a sermon that hits home to many people - he can say thank you. But when he says, praise be to God for his Spirit is working among us - well that seems to me to be spot on and to put the attention to where it ought to be. Just some thoughts!

Eric Perry


Eric Perry commented…

Jayson, I loved this article! Where did you get the Ben Franklin story? I would love to share that with others. It's encouraging and funny.

Uchenna Offor


Uchenna Offor commented…

I disagree with #1. I don't know the whole story behind your friend's words, so I'm not sure if he was trying to actually be humble or working on humility. Apart from that, I disagree it's bragging about how smart he is. There are A LOT of people who know big words. It's simply about him refusing to confine himself to him or her's standards.

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