middot humility daily living overdosing on humility

overdosing on humility

Written by  rabbi michael schiffman

art-imhumblePeople uphold humility like its the most laudable of virtues.  I think its overrated.  I’ve seen people feign humility to the point that it’s sickening.  

Some people, in an attempt to appear humble will take no credit for anything good they do, and I believe this is wrong.  If they do something good, they refuse the acknowledgement and say, “no, it’s the LORD.”  It gives a false sense of humility and to be honest, kind of sickens me. It reminds me of a cup of coffee when I accidentally put too much Sweet-N-Low in it.  One packet is fine.  It sweetens my coffee just enough.  Once in a while, when I’m not paying attention, I’ve put a second packet in, and it’s too sweet to drink.  I wind up dumping the whole thing.  That’s what humility is like.

Humility is an important characteristic in life, but its meant to be like a spice or sweetener.  While it’s a good thing meant to sweeten our actions, it was not meant to be a stand alone ingredient, but something that becomes part of the “mix” of our lives.  We are supposed to be helpful to others, and kind to others.  Humility can be part of the mix.  If we do things with a humble attitude, those things have a good feel to them.  If we over do it, it becomes overly sweetened, and people feel like spitting it out.

I’ve seen people let themselves be treated like doormats in an attempt to act with humility. In the end, they usually resent it but think that’s what they were supposed to do.  I don’t buy it.  Loving God doesn’t mean letting everyone and his brother wipe their feet on you and treat you like crap.  Loving God means treating people with kindness and decency, reckoning your actions as having done them as an offering to God, yet helping his children.  Having done so leaves you feeling good, and blesses the other person.  Acting as if you are a worm doesn’t bless anyone.

The Torah’s commands teach us to treat one another with mutual respect.  To do so presumes we have self-respect as well.  If you don’t respect yourself, no one else will respect you, and you won’t feel very good about yourself either.  When people over do it with humility, people don’t take you as genuine.  It comes across as fake.  We have a right to feel good about ourselves.  That’s how God set it up.

I’ve seen people act with good and kind intentions, yet others turned on them and attacked them verbally, trying to take advantage of their kindness.  When they were attacked, they just accepted it.  They felt they needed to “turn the other cheek.”  While there is an appropriate time for turning your cheek, there is a fine line between being humble and enabling the other person’s bad behavior.  For many years I let people take advantage of my kindness and I was wounded over and over by them.  I reached the point where I realized they were no better for my allowing their bad behavior, and I was no better for it either.  When I stopped letting people treat me badly, and called them to account for their behavior, sometimes they backed off and changed their behavior.  Other times they didn’t, but in either case, I felt better for it, and was able to receive the one thing you get for doing the right thing, the feeling that I had done good.  Feigned humility robs you of that, and its wrong.

I could find fault with the people who expressed their bad behavior, but the reality is, I let them do it.  No longer.   One packet of Sweet N Low is enough.  Two, is too much.  Overdosing is never a good thing.

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