The search for an answer to my question has taken me through scores of responses. I have come to the following conclusion: Humbling one’s self means recognizing and accepting that everyone is of equal value; recognizing and accepting that no one is more worthy or more significant than another. This includes a true respect for one’s self and for all others whether we perceive them as weaker or stronger. Humbling one’s self is understanding and accepting one’s rightful place or position in relationship to others. A servant who commands his master to bring him morning coffee will quickly learn what it means to know one’s rightful place; so also it is for an impudent person who expects others to cater to his/ her every whim. On the other hand, a master who chooses to take his servant coffee of his own volition must be one who understands what it means to be of equal worth.
When one speaks of knowing one’s respectful place, some are quick to come to the conclusion that this must involve some kind of oppression; the truth is knowing one’s rightful place breeds respect and leaves no room for strife or oppression. Knowing one’s respectful or rightful place does not mean that one should begin kow- towing to others because one is trying to be “humble”; it does not mean ignoring injustice to self or others as a show of “patience”/ “tolerance” or “long suffering” neither does it mean unquestioning servitude or devotion to a group, person or idea. Pretending to be subservient, acting like a doormat, or fawning over those we see as “superior”, more powerful or influential is not an act of humbling oneself; such behaviors are acts of foolishly giving someone else power over one and enslaving one’s self. Pretension, hypocrisy and misguided acts of “humility” lead only to unfounded anger, resentment and needless stress. Humbling one’s self in my mind involves an inner confidence; a belief that one is complete as a human being. Being complete does not equate to being faultless or perfect nor does it involve arrogance.
We must be especially careful when we interpret what it means to be of equal value being that it is a fundamental element of understanding what it means to humble one’s self. Having equal value is not about being “equal” to another. A son can never be the equal to his father in the sense that they are two different beings with one existing before the other; whether that son is more affluent than his father has no bearing on the situation. The fact that the father was here first suffices. The father has in fact gathered more experiences simply by the virtue of existing before his son. Both father and son are however of equal value. We must not be deluded into measuring a person’s intrinsic value or intrinsic worth by measuring their possessions, position/societal status, privilege, influence or accomplishments. Using changeable factors as measures of the value of a person comes as a result of ignorance, immaturity or fool hardiness. All men are created equal i.e. whether or not one has more privilege than another.
Why does the matter of making penance, confessing one’s mistakes, or admitting one’s wrong doing come into play in religious circles when one truly seeks to humble one’s self? It is hard to fix something until one realizes that it is broken. In stating the offenses one has committed because of not respecting the intrinsic value of others, one clearly recognizes where one went wrong, regrets those errors and can begin to make amends. Humbling one’s self is about self improvement and finding balance in one’s own life. It is a pathway to peaceful living. Persons who identify and accept their own wrong doing and who are able to take full responsibility for the wrong they have done are highly likely to be able to fix what’s broken.
Enitan Doherty-Mason is a Nigerian-American educator and educational consultant who has been resident in the United States since 1976. She enjoys writing social commentaries and working to change the world one person at a time.