If there’s one new year’s resolution we all need to make, it’s to be more humble.
We need to
listen more, and speak less.
See the strength in modesty.
And renounce our egos—or try to.
Because the world depends on it.
Most of our problems today are driven by what lies opposite to humility: egotism, attention-seeking, pride, greed, deceit, and the need for power. These traits, while differing in their specific nature, have been seen to culminate in some of the most destructive personalities in human history. Yet they also underlie many of the problematic behaviours seen throughout members of our species, from acts of cruelty and injustice to climate change denialism. Fires rage in Australia—and the Amazon, and Africa—and at least half of the world’s population, including many in power, seem unable to accept the possibility that we are not the masters of the earth we once imagined.
(Knocked from the centre of the universe centuries ago, we hoped we could maintain our collective ego—as people of God for some, and as superior products of evolution for others, nevertheless owners, controllers, and stewards. Labels self-imposed and imaginary. Anthropocentric. Egocentric. And false.)
It doesn’t take much to see the role of greed and power, of ego, in the current climate crisis. (Or in the spread of disinformation, or in hate, or in almost anything that keeps us up at night.) I surely don’t have to justify the need for humility in this world. But if there were a specific kind I would advocate, it would be intellectual humility first—the openness to being proven wrong, and a recognition of one’s intellectual shortcomings. At the most basic level, it means the acknowledgement that you don’t know everything. In conversations in-person or online, it means listening, thinking critically (!), and foregoing once and for all the seemingly essential need to be right, all of the time.
The truth is, you’re not always right, and you’re not better than anyone else. You’re also going to keep making mistakes, believing in false gods, and ultimately, once in a while, you’re going to be wrong, too. Because you’re human. Humility doesn’t mean silence and self-abasement. It’s not submission. It’s truth. The humble person is the one who checks their biases at the door, tries to maintain a noticeable degree of awareness (of self and others), and gives up the selfish premise that they are the centre of anything.
In actuality, we are in this together, both means and ends of connections and relationships, embedded in everything around us. But we are the centres of nothing. We are neither the centre of the universe nor the centre of our own social sphere. What results from acceptance of this reality is ultimately balance. In this balance there is no ego, no attention-seeking, no attempt to be better than. You are just a person, too. In this balance is the opportunity for not only cooperation, but also positive growth, both individually and collectively.
So as the new year is upon us, set a resolution with some depth. Consider a kind of change that matters. If you want to do something good for this world, start by being humble. It might be good for you too…