The Necessary Balance Between Ability and Humility
It's okay to be better than everyone. It's not okay to tell everyone you're better than them. I constantly struggle with being arrogant, egotistical, and cocky (ask anyone who knows me), and this discussion has been prevalent in my own inner-dialogue. It's confusing and interesting and condemning all at the same time.
"But Kenneth, everyone is equal. No man or woman is any better or worse than any other!" Au contraire, mon frére. In God's eyes, you are correct. We are all equally undeserving of the grace and love freely given to us, and of the salvation He offers us. However, society - and it doesn't matter which one you're in - establishes certain means of measuring and assessing a person to be better or worse than another (typically in reference to a particular task or trait). Before you go on a we-only-need-to-be-concerned-about-what-God-thinks rant against me, explain to me the job interviewing or spouse selection processes without this theory.
Don't worry, I'll wait.
For the purposes of this article, the term "better" refers to one individual being more able or likely to perform at a higher level during a specified task, or in demonstrating a particular characteristic, than another (or several) individual(s).
Despite one's ability, or one's participation in a group's ability (such as with a team sport or business committee), one should always be purely humble of whatever ability they may possess or contribute. Always? Always. Is that even possible? Maybe, maybe not, but it's what we should strive for. Why should anyone try doing that? Even if I wanted to, how would I?
Exuding humility is an incredible act of love towards others. It takes time and struggle to develop this type of loving mindset that does not automatically function via "give me attention." It is difficult to develop character that says "this is not about me." It is hard to create a mentality of giving accolades rather than of receiving them. As much as we might try, we won't always succeed, and that's okay. The goal is to put forth such an effort for humble character that moments of fault become unusual, and are easily detectible for correction. Success is not perfection; success is improvement.
It is difficult to be humble, but it is so very rewarding (and actually makes you look better when someone finds out you're good at something). Humility becomes rewarding through character. Character is rewarding in relationships and networking. Relationships and networking are rewarding for one's reputation and others' willingness to be around you or help you out. Reputation and others' willingness to help are rewarding through opportunities. Opportunities provide growth, leadership, money, and life fulfillment. If not for any moral reason, selfish gain provides plenty of logic to be humble.
Ultimately, we'll all be truly happiest following God. Humility is not a guarantee to success, and neither is any other single human behavior. But society will honor you for it, and God will bless you for it - but only if it's not a fake, outwardly expression of humility, because that's hollow and transparent. Once you can develop and maintain a mindset of "I am not first," beautiful things will happen. Trust me. The subtleties this difference creates can make for the most apparent of good tidings.
Okay, so, how exactly do I go about being humble? If you're familiar with locus of control, it plays an important role here. Start with where or to whom you attribute failures and accomplishments. Analyze situations thoroughly. This takes time and practice, so don't be discouraged if you're not able to do so immediately. Look at all the determining factors in that particular situation. Each and every single one. If it's a failure, assess the failure to see if you are the reason, or if there's anything you could have reasonably done to prevent the failure from happening.
Learning to set aside pride and entitlement to accept that you need to change or "get over" a situation is a very large stepping stone. If the situation is something successful, check to see what created that success for you. Chances are, you are not the sole influence throughout your entire life who caused you to do well. Learning where to attribute doing well or "good luck" is key to living a humble life.
Vital to this process is the way in which you tell stories and talk about yourself. The subtlety in how you talk of your involvement in something speaks volumes for your character and how others will perceive you. Chances are, you're oblivious to this truth, making it that much more important. There's a monumental difference between "I led and grew an organization past members' goals," and "Our organization has been really blessed with members and participants who were driven, passionate people, allowing us to surpass our goals."
See the difference? How about this: "I became an Eagle Scout at 13," vs. "Our troop had several incredible men for leaders who pushed us to reach goals quickly." Or, "I can put a soccer ball in the upper 90˚ from anywhere on this half of the field," vs. "I was fortunate to have quality coaches help me grow and hone my skills." Or, "An incredible company wants me to work for them," vs. "I've been given with an amazing opportunity." Or, "I'm so much more mature than them," vs. "I'm thankful for the influence and leadership apparent throughout my development."
These are just a few examples, but pay attention to how the first statement in each scenario fully credits the individual for their accomplishments, while the second attributes accomplishments to other factors that allowed or caused them to do well. This difference is important and impacts every person you come in contact with.
There's nothing wrong with taking credit where is due. For example, "I locked myself in the library for 37 hours this week studying for that exam, and I got an A" is perfectly acceptable. You worked hard on your own for that particular scenario, and you deserve credit for a job well done. Similarly, "It felt amazing to make that game-winning shot," as well as "I took advantage of wonderful opportunities given to me, and was able to reach the goals set before me ahead of schedule" are fine statements to make.
What is not okay is saying, "I'm smarter/better than you because I made and A," "I'm an incredible athlete because I made that shot," or "You're lazy because you didn't take the same opportunities as me." If you have a success because you worked hard and the opportunity presented itself, wonderful! You did well. Take a bit of pride in it. But do not generalize the situation to other, similar situations, and certainly not to all aspects of your life so as to be condescending and arrogant in how you walk or talk.
Work hard and take pride in a job well done, but do not let it blind you to others' abilities and to others' participation in your own successes.