Why are people obsessed with humility?

Say, narcissism and extreme humility are two ends of a continous spectrum and self-confident humility is at the mid-point. Why do people seem to think the more to the right, the better?

Narcissism is instantly annoying. No arguments on that. But extreme humility is supremely confusing!

Let me illustrate how..

I get one remark almost all the time. “oh, you are doing a PhD in one of the premium institutes in the country, that too directly after under-graduation, you must be really brilliant!”. Now, how am I to react to that? I am obviously not allowed to say “yes, you got that right.. I see that you are not too dull yourself, good going!”. I usually just smile and wait for you to change topic, but you take that as asking for more praise and go on and on about it, until I wish I had an invisibility cloak. So, that is not a ‘correct’ reaction either. From watching others, I find that saying “oh, i am really not that brilliant” quickly followed by “it is easy to get into and survive a PhD in this institution.” or “I just got lucky!” works. Now, this is considered the most acceptable reaction, with the you saying “no no.. Dont be too humble.. We know you are brilliant” and me denying having any sort of brilliance over and over until both get bored. But it leaves me feeling like a cheat having let down either my institute or my own intelligence or both.. To hell with humility!

What makes a woman say, out of the blue and to a practical stranger, “I don’t have a great face or body, but blah blah blah”? Again, I am not allowed to give her a judging look-over from head to toe and say “you are quite right.. There ARE quite a few opportunities for chiselling. But I shall be glad to overlook the defects”. I am supposed to say “oh no.. You look lovely. There is no such thing as a perfect anyway.. Only artificial models and actresses get themselves those noses, lips and boobs.”.  But, doesn’t that essentially say the same thing, only in an clever, flattering way?.  Or, I may say “”Please don’t say that, you look lovely, very homely”. What does that mean? Beautiful women are not ‘homely’? Actresses & models can’t make a home? What the heck?

Forget personal interaction..

How are we taught to write up our resumes? I am not supposed to gloat about my achievements, though I am expected to have written words like ‘responsible’, ‘always willing to learn and improve’, ‘reliable’, ‘sincere and hardworking’ and ‘good social skills’ in it. More importantly, I should have a section about my weaknesses – just to show that I am sooooo humble that I am well aware of my weaknesses! But of course,  I am supposed to pose only positive traits as ‘weaknesses’ and subtly play it up as a quality that the potential employer would benefit from – “oh, i am such a bad workaholic, i forget i have a life when i get working”.. Ya rrright! I would think if the employers really wanted to know a candidate’s weaknesses and the resumes truly presented them, most resumes would read “gossip addict”, “afraid of taking up responsibility”, “love to dodge work”, “prefer to draw handsome salary without putting in much effort or taxing my brain” etc. The world, then, would have 99% unemployment and there would be no corporate firms or large institutions unless people resorted to inky-pinky-ponky to recruit employees.

Everyone writes letters and emails. How do people sign off?

‘Yours sincerely’? Why do you lie when you are not going to sincerely do the job allotted to you, but would always do the minimal thing that lets you get away with it, no matter how the shoddy job inconveniences others?

‘Yours obediently’? Are you going to jump out of the window obediently, if I ask you to?

‘Respectfully yours’? I am a stranger to you.. You don’t even know my name or gender and you are not even addressing me personally.. You are simply writing to a faceless, nameless person representing an establishment, asking for a service. Don’t tell me you go around offering respect to complete strangers to whom you are just a task to be completed before leaving office for the day. I know you have no respect for most people you personally know, let alone faceless, nameless strangers being paid to provide you a service. The moment you put the phone down after talking to a customer service executive, you bitch about their dumbness and lack of efficiency!

And what’s with the ‘yours’ attached to all these? Are you mine? Are you offering yourself to me? Am I allowed to sell you off as a slave and make myself some money for a fancy dinner?

Just how pointless is such extreme supposed humility?

Okay, so, you argue that there is nothing wrong in a few harmless words. Do you realise how artificial this over-rated extreme humility  has made social interaction?

You ask me to teach you something, I tell you I don’t know it well enough to teach you. But you hang on to “oh, of course you know. Who knows, if YOU don’t?” for a while till I give you some vague answer or think of an excuse and escape. You then go around bitching about me as “so selfish.. Would not even teach me a small thing”.

Imagine we are working as a team. I am not allowed to say “i am better at this task, let me take care of it.. Could you please take care of that other task?”. If I do, I am a show-off.. The successful completion of the task, is of course, unimportant. But you are allowed to dodge work saying “oh, i cant do that.. My brain is not capable of understanding that much. Could you please do it? You are so good at such things!”. Humility, my foot!

At the end of the day, no one knows who is being fake or excessively humble and who is being sincere and straight forward. Ask for an opinion on your work, you always get “oh, great. What could possibly be wrong with something you did?”.  Everyone smiles, everyone says extremely nice things about others, everyone says exaggeratedly bad things about themselves, everyone misses the point, everyone feels fake!

But yes, everyone feels super proud about being very humble… And no one sees the irony of that stupid feeling! No one realises that really humble people are self-confident and secure and are humble without making an effort, unconsciously, without deliberately doing or saying things to feel or come across as humble. Truly humble people do not think they are humble, they think they are just being truthful. Humility is a state of mind that comes with self-confidence and the lack of any kind of insecurity. It gets recognized and loved by others almost instantly. It doesn’t confuse others and make them wary. It just leaves everyone feeling truly good, and always makes the world a better, more efficient and truthful place.

So why the obsession with extreme, self-deprecating humility that simply involves exchange of words that communicate nothing and actions that achieve nothing?

I just don’t get it!

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2 thoughts on “Why are people obsessed with humility?

  1. Much of this is cultural. It’s one of the reasons, when we interact with people from other cultures, we frequently make mistakes and choose the “wrong” level of humility.

    I worked with a Indian woman in a previous job, and it was sometimes complicated for this reason. She is smart and knows a lot, but it was still hard to get her to actually assert herself. We *wanted* her to say “No, that’s wrong, we should instead …” or “I have a better idea, if we’d only … then …” or even “That has to be the silliest way of solving that problem I’ve ever seen, it’s completely broken.” but she felt that “correcting” or “critiquing” people, especially those who where her superiors, would be “inapropriate”.

    On the flipside, most Americans come of as arrogant dicks if they interact with Norwegian work-life, because they tend to write sentences like; “I’m the best programmer in my company. I’m able to solve any task in a minimum of time and in a perfect way. Every project I was ever part of was a smashing success, you should all bow in awe before me.” (well not -quite- but you get the idea)

    • Yep.. Indian women are usually more towards the extreme humility end than Indian men are. Another expression of the gender inequality that prevails. But in general, I keep wondering whether this tendency towards extreme humility too can be explained away with that all-encompassing-explanation – “Colonial hangover”.. and then I wonder – do other nations that faced colonization too face this problem? I guess I can not find out unless I live in such places for a while or know someone who does/did.

      On the other hand, the Indian young of my generation are a confused lot.. One one side, they are being told to be totally totally humble as in “if you get slapped on one cheek, offer your other cheek to be slapped” cos that’s what their “rich culture” says.. On the other hand, they are exposed to other cultures – especially American, and some British, mostly through movies. That makes them want to disagree with everyone at the drop of a hat. . But they do not know the A-B-C of polite disagreement. It is sometimes funny when people get aggressively argumentative without even giving much thought to the other point of you. Again, men are more likely to commit such blunders. I hope you come across this class of Indians as well – just for some variety 😉

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