>What is the value of humility?

>Is humility always good, or not? We’ve heard of the ‘greats’ of history, humbly refusing awards and/or praise. Take the following example of Einstein speaking to the Chicago Decalogue Society in 1954:

“Ladies and gentlemen: You are assembled today to devote your attention to the problem of human rights. You have decided to offer me an award on this occasion. When I learned about it, I was somewhat depressed by your decision. For in how unfortunate a state must a community find itself if it cannot produce a more suitable candidate upon whom to confer such a distinction?”

Now you may argue that this wasn’t humility, for he really didn’t do that much related to human rights. But nevertheless he was humbly refusing an award he could easily have embraced.

What would you have done? Is it the case that there is a time and a place for humility? Are these people just trying to call more attention to themselves? Does humility serve the humble, or just the rest of us?

3 comments

  • >I agree, it wasn't a case of humility,it was one of self awareness.Einstein also turned down the offer to become the prime minister of israel when the country was first established. Einstein is a smart man and probably knew he was going to be used as much as he was going to contribute.maybe in the same way he saw the chicago decalogue society as a group of name droppers who merely wanted to be able to list him as one of their recipients for the purposes of increasing their own stature.like we know, einstein was a smart man and he was probably aware of the ills that come with flattery.as for humility, its a cultural value. nobody likes a blow-ass, although i can't therefore explain will smith's appeal, but humility is something people observe, learn, and choose or not, to display themselves.

  • >"he was probably aware of the ills that come with flattery"This sentence would suggest that you believe humility is adopted when it's rational and in a person's self interests to be humble.You then go on to say that its a cultural value that is adopted by certain societies.I agree with both. On an individual level we do act humbly when and where we see it benefiting ourselves. Yet there are also situations where we do it out of instinct, without thought or planning. This is where our cultural group identities come into play. I think the biggest group impacts on a person's humility come at the most local levels. For instance a parent's example, teachings and upbringing have more impact on how humble a child becomes, than occasional anecodotes about the 'good Brit/Luxembourger/New Zealander etc' being a humble person.Both the selfish motivation and the cultural one are interlinked, and will be of varying importance within different people. For instance it's more than likely that Einstein adopted his humility (even if we agree the above was not an example of humility he was definitely humble) in his early years. Einstein was a slow developer, and would even have been thought stupid when young. His sister later said how she remembered Einstein mouthing out sentences in his native language before speaking, and up to quite an old age. She said it was as if he just couldn't grasp his own language properly. So it's natural that became quiet and humble, because he didn't have much to shout about when young.As for whether humility has value I think it's undoubtable that it does. As you say "nobody likes a blow-ass". Indeed if it didn't serve us social evolution would most likely have prevented it from becoming such a widespread and well thought of quality to have.

  • >I see Tony Blair has accepted the 2010 Liberty medal Human Rights award.I wish he had the same sense of self awareness that Einstein had.In fact any sense of self awareness would be an improvement.By "The ills that come with flattery" i meant that there are many possibilities for ironic consequences.if you accept something, then you are contributing to its standing/authority, yet you have no control over it's further decisions. This can be the case with being the PM of israel or accepting a nobel peace prize, only to have yourself joined by kissinger, or accepting the 2007 liberty medal (like bono) only having to endorse a future winner like blair.Yes, humility has an outcome which is subjective, therefore according to how that outcome is judged, it is accorded a value.

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