I’m Too Humble to Tell You How Humble I Am

I’ve lived all my life feeling that I was a very ordinary person.  I never really stood out in academically, I was never that popular or talented, but people always told me that I had something “special”.  “You will change the world someday”, they told me.  But I didn’t believe them at the time.  

I really did not have any intention to change the world.  All I wanted was to have a family and do my job, but people kept asking me to step up and lead.  I never knew my ability to inspire others could be used to inspire others.  And now, here I am, poised to change the world for the benefit of all of you who don’t understand what it is that needs to change….

I’ve written once before about the quality of humility and narcissism as being circular blind spots.   For example, if I think I’m humble, or am telling you about my humility, then I’m not being very humble.   The story above, totally fabricated by yours truly, is an example of how someone can brag about being humble without realizing it.

I guess all I can say is that if you catch yourself bragging about your humility and you wish to be viewed as humble, you might want to rethink this approach.   I suspect that the lack of humility is rarely lost on the listener.

Take it from me, someone with genuine humility.  🙂

Circular Logic Blind Spots

I love self-assessments such as the VIA character strengths assessment.    Like all self-assessments, however, such tests have their shortcomings.

For example, how about a decidedly non-scientific survey:  How humble are you on a scale of 1 (not at all humble) to 10 (very humble)? How narcissistic are you on a scale of 1 (not at all narcissistic) to 10 (very narcissistic)?

Though not exact opposites, humility and narcissism are roughly on different ends of a spectrum. Both can be measured more accurately tests such as the VIA or Narcissistic Personality Disorder Test, though at an extreme, narcissism is also a clinical condition that is diagnosed by a clinician.

Even if you were to use the free tests, both personality types potentially suffer from circular logic that starts from a blind spot and then is re-circulated by our ego. For instance, if I believe that I’m humble, then I’m not being very humble. If I don’t think I’m humble, then that’s a humble self-reflection. This circular logic is influenced by our ego and biased self-perception, leaving us in this never-ending logic loop.

The same (but in an opposite way) is true for narcissism. If I suspect that I’m narcissistic, then it’s pretty hard to be really narcissistic if I think that I may be self-centered.   If I don’t think I’m narcissistic then I may actually be somewhat self-centered. (However, apparently clinical narcissism may also be diagnosed by asking one question: “Are you a narcissist?”.)

We all tend to believe the best (or for some of us, the worst) about ourselves.   The point is, we’re never truly objective about ourselves. Our self-conception has been biased by our personal scripts and by what we have been told or led to believe by others. That bias, whether positive or negative, means that we all have blind spots as we are unaware of the areas that we can’t or don’t want to see.

I don’t have a magic translator that interprets your scores into a true humility/narcissism levels. However, I do want to introduce some curiosity into your self-conception. Our self-ratings are a best guess average containing a level of error. Perhaps you’re not as high/low on those scales as you think. Consider viewing your score not as the single number but a range of numbers that hover to the right or left of your selection, where the magnitude of the span is proportional to the limits of our self-awareness.

Like with all other strengths/opportunities for growth, we are better able to find our wisdom or sweet spot for exercising our strength by increasing our awareness of when and where we tend to do well or poorly.  Simply acknowledging that our blind spots and bias exist and our uncertainty about how well/poorly we are doing is an excellent start.

At least in my humble opinion.

When Response Does Not Match Intentions

I hate getting caught in that Known to Others/Blind to Self part of Johari’s window. As someone who prides herself on her self awareness, growing wisdom, and improving emotional self-management, it really sucks to get caught there again.

But, then again, this is the human condition and none of us are immune to it. And just because I’ve made a lot of progress in the last 15 years, doesn’t mean that I’ve completed the work. After all, it’s all relative: going from 10% to 25% self-awareness is a huge improvement but still reflects a long way to go.

My lesson this month had to do with my schema. Remember, schema are the assumptions and beliefs (often a deep and unconscious fear) through which we filter our view of the world. When someone pushes our hot buttons – get us really pissed or upset – usually it means they’ve triggered our schema and confirmed our deepest and worse fear. I’ve gotten really good at managing that part of my schema. My pissed off phase is so much shorter and milder than in the past.

The part of my schema reaction that I am still terrible at accounting for is that low level simmer that flies just below my radar. When I haven’t adequately acknowledged or dealt with a hot button issue, I feel a tightness in my chest and the feelings reflecting my underlying sadness, anger, or resentment seep out in almost everything I do.

In addition to the tightness in my chest, I can tell I have unresolved emotions because the tension tends to run higher than expected in my interpersonal interactions. If I’m feeling disproportionately annoyed by small things, others react to me with the same impatience that I’m trying to hide.

In short, I’m receiving what I’m putting out. If I don’t like what I’m receiving, I need to revise what I’m transmitting, especially if I think I’m being an angel. Yes my intentions may be good, but that’s no excuse for telegraphing my unresolved crap.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to learn to understand those Known to Others/Unknown to Self elements of myself. I know those elements will be ever-present and continually represent an opportunity to improve and grow. Indeed, I’m feeling much better now having uncovered some unprocessed emotion, and others are responding to me once again in ways that match my intentions. Yes, looking in can be scary and is usually humbling, but it so beats the alternative.

Self-Awareness and Johari's Window

Self-Awareness and Johari’s Window

The Trouble With Smart People

Pretty much everyone I know is smart. So friends, don’t hate me for what I’m about to say. But someone has to say it and I’m known for speaking what I believe to be truth.

We can be a real pain in the buttinsky.

There. I said it.

At least know that I’m including myself in this equation. In fact, it’s my own experience from which I draw this conclusion.

In my last blog, I wrote about the difference between confidence and arrogance. We can easily cross into arrogance in a blink of an eye – yours truly especially. Arrogance can be very global to our whole lives, or to a major part of our lives like our work (which is mostly what I was referring to).   But arrogance can also be situational and episodic. Either way, it can lead to stupidity.

I like to think that I usually keep my ego in check, but I’m rethinking that assumption after a recent minor injury. As a (non-practicing) health care professional, I felt that I was capable of self-prescribing my recovery plan. A week later I had made little or no progress.   It took a chorus of not only my immediate but extended family (and a few friends) to send me to the doctor and get and X-ray and some crutches.

Some people are more open to input than others.

And, as usual, I see the fallacy in others but not my own folly.

“Why do you look at the speck in your brothers eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

I frequently see others bypass the wisdom of experts, even when offered for free, because of their belief that their knowledge, wisdom and ability to strategize into the future is complete.   They are (I am) an island, and you can keep swimming on by.

In certain areas, I am a wise consumer. I tend to get care, advice, and supervision proactively when I know I’m out of my league.  In that case, what I don’t know is just ignorance.   But when in an area of comfort and knowledge, what I don’t know are blind spots potentially reinforced by arrogance. Health, psychology, relationships, education, parenting… my blind spots are vast and deep.

“Ignorance is bliss but knowledge is power”

Which do you choose?