Humility: Open to Learn

Humility. Open to Learn. Psychology Fanatic article header image.

Receiving advice creates a predicament, requiring both courage and humility. Advice, especially when unsolicited, suggests lack. The mere mention we may suffer insufficiency stokes the embers of shame and burns in our chests; “How dare they suggest I’m weak and stupid!” Our defensiveness interferes with opportunities to widen our vision. Openness requires letting go of our ego’s grasp on “infinite knowledge,” and listening with intent to understand.​

We find comfort in believing we possess “infinite knowledge.” These beliefs are exposes during ordinary conversations. We cut off a coworker’s retort, emphasizing we know before they complete their thought; our feeling spike when contradicted; we ferociously defend a failed plan. With a little exploration, we see the remnants of insecurity thinly covered with defensiveness of infallibility. We try to display our immense knowledge; but in so doing, we show shakiness in our confidence.

“With a little exploration, we see the remnants of insecurity thinly covered with defensiveness of infallibility.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Defensiveness, Security, and Humility

The belief goes: “If I know everything than I can survive.” By listening and evaluating advice, the openness to error implies lack and vulnerability. Our brains are magnificent. We know a lot; but boundless knowledge remains unknown in the vast eternities of the universe. There will always be more to learn. We don’t even know what we do not know. Consequently, Our lack of knowledge limits we because the breadth of our individual experience is limited—and always will be.

Learning from experience is essential. We absorb life. Moments impact our souls. Experience isn’t a simple flow of knowledge from the world into our minds, but something consumed by our entire being. Life can hurt, damage and destroy. Experience leaves deep marks in the neural connections of our brains.

​When experience cuts deep, it creates vastly new interpretations of life, igniting unneeded fear, anger and guilt that live inside tainting perceptions with emotions from the past. Advice from someone less invested, often is less tainted by aspirations, giving a perspective that we may be missing. When life hurts beyond our capacity to process, we defend. Sometimes we defend ferociously, blocking out reality through a host of immature defenses.

Humility and Self Awareness

T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “we display strength and conceal weakness, fooling ourselves with a protective shell of independence, while ignoring our need for external sources” (2017). Humility allows us to move past the protective self-deceptions. William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford University, explains that we must “always be aware that we may be inadvertently going about things the wrong way.” he explains that “such awareness is commonly called ‘humility.’ He then concludes that “being willing and able to self-correct provides essential insurance against creating accidental harm. Severe damage is caused by people who heedlessly barrel ahead after they have been given warning that they are on a destructive course” (2003, location 511).

Humility Isn’t Blindly Following

A humble person weighs advice from a variety of people of varying experience with different expertise. We soak in the knowledge, making judgements slowly, considering both long and short-term consequences. Humility doesn’t cling to inflexible dogmatic rules, nor does humility demand self-contained omniscience, but humility invites change and is open to correction.

​We can’t blindly follow. Some advice is an underhanded gut shot, a passive-aggressive shout to undermine our confidence and dissuade healthy growth. We must recognize those demeaning statements, although dressed in helpfulness, they are laced with arsenic, designed to hurt while protecting the ego of the deliverer from their own sense of lack.

Awareness of the inevitable involvement of the ego assists with sorting through our insecurities, acknowledging our limitations and carefully listening to others for insights we may have missed. With humility and willingness, we make fair evaluations of the value of advice without automatic discrediting to protect our sensitive souls.

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Damon, William (2003). Noble Purpose: The Joy of Living a Meaningful Life. Templeton Foundation Print.

Murphy, T. Franklin (2017), Flawed, Rotten Imperfect. Psychology Fanatic. Published 4-24-2017. Accessed 4-24-2023.

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