Cultivating Humility

Yesterday was the final Mid-Day Reflection of the academic year at the law school.  The subject was humility.  It seemed to me a fitting topic for students preparing for a profession that is not particularly known for humility, in a world that does not particularly prize it.

The reflection I offered addressed what humility is (and the distinction between true humility and false humility), why humility is an important virtue for us to cultivate, and how we might grow in humility.

In our discussion of different ways to cultivate humility, I offered several suggestions, including practicing gratitude and practicing not always jumping to defend ourselves and the correctness of our position.  I shared with them a story told of St. Thomas Aquinas: One day when Thomas was was reading aloud in the refectory at dinner, he was corrected for mispronouncing a word, and though he knew that he had pronounced it properly, he nevertheless repeated, it in the way he was told.  Afterwards asked by his companions why he had done so, he replied “Because it matters little whether we pronounce a syllable long or short, but it matters very much to be humble and obedient.”

One of the students offered another suggestion: consciously recognizing the gifts of others and helping them to see those gifts.  We had earlier talked about humility as poverty of spirit, as recognizing that all we are and have is gift from God, and about the humility of understanding that it doesn’t always have to be about me.  We had also talked about the need to remember it is God’s plan I am about, not my own, which helps us avoid comparing ourselves with others.

I thought the student’s suggestion was a wonderful one for growing in humility.  Not complimenting people for the sake of complimenting them, or as a tool to get them to do something I want.  But as a way to put the focus on the gifts God has given to each of us so that we each may participate in God’s plan.  And an embodiment of the recognition that we all have  a responsibility to help each other play that part.

Whose gifts have you not noticed recently?

Note: I did not, as I often do, record this talk.  However, you can find a podcast of a talk I gave on this same subject last year at St. Edward’s Catholic Church here.

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