“Humility is not having a need to be more than you are.” – Henry Cloud
I first experienced this valuable lesson on humility early in life. We kindergartners were learning our letters and sounds. Some of my classmates were having difficulty with phonics, but not me. My papers regularly earned smiley faces, high praise and those coveted gold foil stars. It’s a miracle that I didn’t need rotator cuff surgery by the end of my inaugural school year as fast and frequently as my hand flew up whenever the teacher asked a question.
After you’ve been told over and over again how bright you are, you start to believe it. One day before I had learned to read, I decided to look for the biggest book in our classroom and check it out to take home. Four inches thick and weighing about five pounds, it was no easy task for my five-year-old arms to wrap around the hard-backed blue behemoth with the large lettering on its spine. The only thing bigger than that book was my head as I proudly hauled it onto the bus after school.
Strolling down the aisle in search of a seat, I made eye contact with Joey. He was in the fifth grade and more importantly, he knew how to read. Joey asked me what I was doing with that book. With a haughty look, I replied smugly and loud enough for the other kids to hear, “I’m going to read it.” Joey smirked and snickered deliriously, “You’re going to read the DICTIONARY??!”
It is a great gift to be reminded that you are just like everyone else on this planet – a human being. When we can surrender our need to be more than we really are, we are well on the path to living an honest and open life.
Life blooms when we recognize that we can be good, but we are not good all the time. Sometimes we are hypocrites, acting contrary to what we say we believe. We will disappoint each other. We will make mistakes and we will fail. It’s not the number of mistakes we make that counts, but the number of times we continue to make the same mistake. Failure becomes a friend when we learn from it and do the next right thing.
Our failures also help us to empathize and identify with other normal human beings like us when they fail. We develop the capacity to offer kindness, compassion, understanding and assistance to others when they stumble, because that is what we desperately want for ourselves when we fall. We become merciful grace-givers. Our relationships deepen and become richer as we begin to allow our loved ones the freedom to be real and to be known, as we, too, are honest and fully known by them.
When we begin to see our failures as part of the growth process, we find the courage and strength to learn from our mistakes, to get back up and keep moving forward instead of remaining stuck or quitting. My mistakes and failures do not mean that I am an idiot. They just mean that I still have much to learn. And the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.
Almost five decades after the laughter and teasing on the school bus has died down, I still haven’t read the dictionary. However, I am grateful for that first of many lessons on the importance of being real.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”