How can we be humble? Humility is so desirable, isn’t it? Nobody wants to have the reputation of arrogance. We don’t want people to say behind our backs: “Wow – what an ego!”
We want people to recognize our talents and our skills and our accomplishments. That’s one of the reasons we keep striving to do better, to learn more, to accomplish bigger and neater things. But how do we do this, and stay humble? How do we keep our heads from exploding through our hats? How do we stay humble?
We are so turned off by movie stars and sports heroes who are arrogant and full of themselves, and so delighted when we meet one who is humble.
One of my favorite movie stars years ago was the singer-comedian, Danny Kaye. I saw every movie he ever made, and watched the reruns too. (He was brilliant in the role of Hans Christian Anderson, in the movie: The Ugly Duckling.) One day I was flying from San Francisco to New York, and he was sitting alone in the front seat. I approached him and asked if I could join him. To my surprise, he said “yes”, and I spent five hours with the most delightfully humble man I have ever met.
How did he get that way? How could a man who was the talk of Hollywood be so humble? How could a man who had made 25 blockbuster movies, sit with me for five hours and not bore me to death with his accomplishments?
Few of us have had more fame than Danny Kaye. Back in the 70’s, his name and face were familiar to people all over the world. He entertained the queen of England and the king of Norway. His movies played in every city of America.
Yet this man sat next to me for 5 hours on that plane from San Francisco to New York, and I never once felt embarrassed or “put upon”. You know how you feel when an arrogant person talks to you. She’s all puffed up with her importance and her knowledge, and she tries to make you feel insignificant and stupid. Danny Kaye never did that to me.
How did he get so humble?
I’ll tell you the secret. It took me weeks and months to analyze that 5-hour conversation with my hero, but I came up with the answer. And here it is: “being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but it’s thinking of yourself less”.
Danny Kaye didn’t deny his talents; he didn’t think less of his accomplishments. He knew they were outstanding. He just didn’t dwell on them. When I asked him about winning the Oscar, he asked me about my family. We traded pictures of our children instead of pictures of his movie characters.
Humility is not defacing. It does not demand that you deny your talent. Humility is simply a matter of focus. Are you focused on yourself, or on the person you are with? Are you focused on what you know, or on what the other person knows?
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s just thinking of yourself less.