I love this quote. It truly is the essence of humility.
The word is confusing in our culture. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” That sounds great on paper. However, many people associate the word ‘humility’ with the negative word ‘humiliation’, which is defined as “to reduce to a lower position in one's own eyes or others' eyes”. Humiliation is no fun.
What right do I have to say I am better than you? I have character flaws just like you do. We may not have the same flaws, but who is to judge my flaws are any better than yours? Let’s remember we are on the same plane. That means I could also ask the question “what right do I have to say I am worse than you?” If I want to be humble, I don’t have to lower myself to a position of any less importance than you. We are equal.
I have struggled my entire life with alternately feeling less than and feeling better than. The character flaws I have recognized that keep me from feeling equal to, and therefore keep me from effectively practicing humility, are fear and pride.
One of my character flaws is fear. I have a fear of people. I have always been ridiculously critical of myself. I compare myself to others. Other women are always prettier than me, better mothers, better wives. Other people have better jobs, can handle stress better, meditate more, make more money, eat healthier, etc.
Extreme self-criticism is based in fear. It is the fear that I’m not enough, and that if I’m not enough, people won’t like me. I will be rejected and alone. Fear wants me to believe I am less than other people. I am not good enough. Fear causes me to be easily offended, defensive, and depressed.
Another of my character flaws is pride. My ego tells me that I am better than you. It reminds me that I drive a great car and live in a nice house. It tells me because I have a college degree, I’m smarter than you. Or that because I have read a book about Hinduism, I can meditate better than you. Or that because I make money, I deserve more than you. Pride wants me to believe I am better than others.
But do you want to know a secret? Pride is based in fear. If my ego doesn’t tell me I’m better than you, then that must mean I am less than you. And that would be humiliating. People wouldn’t like me. I would be rejected and alone.
We are all souls here on earth learning the lessons we need to learn to move on. My journey really has nothing to do with your journey. You may help me at times, and I may assist you, but that doesn’t mean either of us is better than the other. It means the Universe put each of us in the other’s path for a specific reason, to help us learn a lesson we are here to learn.
But back to C.S. Lewis…
If I am continually worried if I am better than you or less than you, I am constantly thinking only of me. If I accept that we are equal, journeying this world together side by side, I will be much more effective at listening to the gentle nudging of the Universe to ways in which I can help you on your path. I can remain humble by thinking of myself less. I am aware. I am listening. I can be of use to the earth and its people instead of being fearful or prideful and therefore cutting myself off from people. I can be truly humble.