I remember while I was growing up, one of my Hindi textbooks in school included a chapter on Dohas (couplets). Of course, those were the days when the depth of dohas, shlokas and the likes were never truly explored not appreciated – there was not much inclination, interest or intent. The sole idea used to be to learn them for the exclusive purpose of being able to elaborate the composition’s meaning in exams.

However, as we grew up, like everything else we had heard from our elders to the written word – things started making sense and becoming much more relevant – the words – written as well as spoken came back, whenever we were looking for a signal or a message from the Universe.

One such couplet which has stayed with me for the longest of times is Kabir Das’

“Bada Hua So Kya Hua, Jaise Ped Khajoor
Panthi Ko Chhaya Nahin, Phal Laage Atidoor”

A commonly available translation of this couplet is –

“In vain is the eminence, just like a date tree
No shade for travellers, fruit is hard to reach”

Loosely explained, it means that though the date tree is large and stands tall – it neither provides shade to travellers nor are the fruits easily accessible.

On similar lines, I remember my mother often quoting the example of a mango tree – ‘the more the mangoes on a tree, the closer it is to earth’. She still repeats these (among several such gems) when  the situation necessitates, and I never get tired of hearing them.

Humility, I believe, is one of the most under-rated, under-appreciated virtues of the times we are living in. It often gets confused with meekness, shyness and even submissiveness. However, nothing can be further from truth. A humble person can be confident, assertive and self-assured. What they are not is hollow, arrogant and self-involved.

We are a ‘vain’ generation

Vanity – the opposite virtue of modesty and humility is all that the humankind at large seems to be displaying these days. The designer logos, the greatest achievements, the fattest bank balances, the social circles – we are not shying away from wearing these on our sleeves – both literally and figuratively.

Our need to fit in among the so called ‘powerful’ & ‘in’ crowd has taken over all our other needs. This force is driving our store choices, the restaurants we eat at and even the people we want to hang-out with. The ‘true’ friendships, intimate conversations, soulful conversations have been long forgotten. How well connected can we call ourselves if we are connected to ourselves the least?

And in an attempt to appear successful, attractive and superior we stamp over our humility and modesty very conveniently. We are turning into extremely boisterous, extravagant, over-confident and completely profligate versions of ourselves. We are desperately trying to win at every race (even when there isn’t a race at all!).

The natural question which arises is ‘Why?’ The answer is fairly simple and straight-forward – because the society is celebrating only such traits and achievements. Add to this the tremendous pressure which comes with social media. It does keep us connected but in excess can lead to self-consciousness and narcissism and make us extremely attention & approval seeking.

What we forget completely is that the very word ‘Vain’ is derived from the Latin word ‘vanus’ which translates to ‘empty’. The word Vanity cannot get more self-explanatory than this!  

How does humility affect us?

Since vanity is all about continuously trying to prove yourself and about one-upmanship, it often breeds jealously, contempt and unhealthy competition. Humility on the other hand makes place for co-existence and enables us to genuinely celebrate the victories of others. This very difference enables us to establish stronger and deeper relationships with others – both at personal as well as professional levels. Humility doesn’t make us go seeking approval but makes us earn respect.

Humility lets us stay on our paths and oriented towards our own goals instead of being distracted by unnecessary social comparisons (both upward and downward). The lack of upward social comparison prevents us from the ‘copy-cat’ mindset and the absence of downward comparison keeps a check on the false boost to our ego.

People who are humble are also more helpful – since they are not in a constant state of competition.  Most importantly, they do so without expecting anything in return. And predictably then, they get offered help whenever they need and are grateful when they receive it. For them receiving help is not about entitlement but about the pure goodness of the other person. 

It is hardly any surprise then that those with humility are less anxious and stressed and are more grounded, closer to life’s truths and display a greater sense of self-control and maturity. They are less disappointed by failures and success rarely makes them over-euphoric.

Can we cultivate humility?

 A plethora of factors right from our childhood help us become humble (or not). From the values our parents have constantly harped upon, the way our friends have tackled situations, the movies and role models which have a lasting influence on us, the virtues we give importance to, the aspirations we have and lastly the kind of person we dreamt of becoming – all these have shaped up how humble we are.

Irrespective of the kind of person we have emerged as, if we desire we can acquire the quality of humility. Here are a few simple ways to do that –

  • Be generous, help others.
  • Count your blessings and be grateful for them
  • Stop comparing yourself – today! In every dimension of life. 
  • Offer genuine praise and give compliments.
  • Talk less and listen more.
  • Think of what you want to be remembered for and as after you die.
  • And if all else fails, think of the vastness of this Universe and imagine what a tiny speck of it we constitute. That will surely put things in perspective. 

The message is clear – Be humble! That is all there is to our existence.

C.S. Lewis – the very famous British writer and lay theologian aptly sums up what it means to be humble –

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Today’s world cannot have enough of humility – a quality which is becoming as endangered as any species. Let us strive to be like that mango tree which is laden with fruits and is as close to the earth as can be.

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