Humility and Insecurity
I asked my oldest son recently who he thought was more humble -I or a friend of mine. He replied without my hesitation that it was my friend. I laughed. And I get the irony.
A humble person would have never asked the question.
But unwilling to miss a teaching opportunity, I pointed out that just because people draw attention away from themselves doesn't mean that they're humble. That's modesty.
Humility is making others more important than yourself.
Modesty is thinking less of yourself (or at least minimizing attention on yourself) and that's only half of it. I would argue it's the less important half. It's more valuable to think more about others than to try to stop thinking about yourself.
Asian culture values modesty but that's not the same thing as humility. Eastern culture is much more restrained in emotional expression and individual rights. This promotes humility but it's not a natural byproduct. You can be modest without being humble.
If I compliment an immigrant Chinese mom on how awesomely her child plays piano and she responds, "No, he's not good. He could be so much better." That's a modest response but it's not necessarily humble. I don't see how putting your son down is in anyone's best interest.
If I compliment an American mom on how awesomely her child plays piano and she responds, "Thank you. He just started playing a couple weeks ago and we're amazed how natural he is." There's no modesty there and it hardly feels humble. If my child's skill were inferior to her child's skill, It would be easy to feel minimized by either response.
I don't know exactly what words a humble response would involve. It would probably be more about the tone since humility is really a heart thing. It might be a simple "Thank you" or "I appreciate the compliment. He's worked very hard and we're proud of him".
But here's the thing I'm convinced of: Insecure people cannot be humble. When you're fraught with insecurity, you interpret people's comments as attacks or threats to your worth as a person. Insecure people react defensively to criticism and they dismiss praise. Defensiveness is an inward posture. It is focused on self. An insecure person cannot make others more important than himself.
I would guess that when a mom can't receive a compliment about her child graciously that she wrestles with insecurity. That's not a cultural thing, it's a sin nature, human depravity thing.
See I can't listen or focus on people when I'm trying to prove myself. The only thing I can think about is how to make myself look better or come up with a response to a comment I perceive as a threat.
Yesterday, I bought children's vitamins without fluoride and Judy said the whole point of buying them from Kaiser was fluoride (fluoride vitamins are way expensive!). I responded that we can buy fluoride by itself. She made a comment that months ago she wanted to buy a special dental paste for Elliot but I refused (it was expensive!) and that contributed to him getting 10 cavities recently and having to pay 10-15x more than the dental paste cost to get fillings.
That made me mad. I got defensive. I felt she was insinuating that I'm not a good father. I don't like that. That's an obvious insecurity. At that point, I'm not as concerned about vitamins, fluoride, and my kids' well-being as much as protecting my reputation as a loving father.
Humility can only come from security. Beware insecure people who claim to be humble. And don't worry, as my wife and my son have helped me realize, I won't be holding a humility pageant any time soon.
As a new creation in Christ, I am now humble but it's not a discipline I need to work on. It is a by-product of being secure in how God loves me and recognizing that I'm a vessel through which His love flows.