Humble. Humbled. Humility. The words don’t even sound pretty. They’ve come to denote some very unpleasant feelings.

I am convinced that they hold the key to dialogue.

Few words generate greater misunderstanding than humility. In the minds of many, it signifies humiliation, self-denigration, low self-esteem. Even the dictionary enshrines such definitions: Google humble and definition and see what you get. Eating humble pie is something no one wants to do. Being of humble means is something no one wants to be.

But there’s a better way to think about humility, and it can release all kinds of potential within us. Rightly understood, humility is complete clarity about our individual selves and our place in the universe. As the Holy Cross Associates’ Rule puts it, “Humility is not self-denigration; it is honest appraisal. We have gifts and deficiencies, as does everyone else.”

So what does this have to do with dialogue? To find the answer, let’s think about “our individual selves and our place in the universe.” I reduce this to two basic claims: 

  1. I’m only one person.
  2. I am one person.

Take the first claim. I am only one person among billions. My perspective, therefore, is one among billions: I see only a small sliver of reality as it is. It stands to reason, then, that others’ perspectives on reality might hold as much truth as my own. If I am curious about the cosmos, I want to hear these perspectives. If I care about the monumental challenges of our age—challenges far, far beyond my reach to solve—I want to hear the ideas and solutions of others. Our collective wisdom is our best chance to see all sides of each challenge and, perhaps, arrive at effective solutions.

Now for the second claim. If my perspective is one among billions, it’s also the only one of its kind. I don’t know whether it might hold the key to solving a problem, or blessing another person, or stimulating a discussion that needs to happen. So it’s important that I share it—tempered with the realization of its place as one perspective.

By cultivating this type of humility, we see what we know—and how much we don’t. We can appreciate just how unfathomable a mystery the universe, and the Divine, truly are. With those realizations, we see the value of sharing and listening.

In other words, the value of dialogue.

This is dense stuff. So an example or two is well worth exploring. Let’s look at one next week.