The Psychology of Humility (Full Interview) - Peter Hill and Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso
Dr. Peter Hill and Dr. Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso discuss the psychological study of humility, explaining the importance of the virtue for intellectual character, a moral vision for civil society, the connection between humility and leadership, and the distinctively Christian view of humility in religious life.
I’m not the only one today that notices a lack of humility in public discourse, whether it’s online social media, whether it’s in debate format. All throughout the political cycle last year, doesn’t look like we are thriving with respect to the virtue of intellectual humility. There’s a diagnosis, and I wonder as a psychologist and as you look out into the world, do you detect the same? What do you say about those who are particularly worried about our humility, namely our lack of it?
I think, we’re just now getting into this area of studying intellectual humility. The last couple of years, it’s become more of a popular topic within the field of psychology. I think some individuals in other fields, theologians, philosophers have thought about it for a longer period of time, but we have been studying just the general concept of humility for a longer period of time and we have seen that over the past three decades that arrogance has been increasing and that humility is not as common of a virtue in society as it used to be and so I think that is particularly relevant to the political discussions that we’re having, to public discourse, to the way people collaborate with one another, when if it’s true that humility as a virtue in general is on decline then that makes all of those things more difficult, right, to work together, to listen to one another, and so that’s part of the problem. I think what we can add to that, though, is that especially around the turn of the century with the rise of the field of positive psychology that we also are focusing more on, what are the strengths and the virtues that people are bringing with them and with this, the idea of not just focusing on the arrogance and how arrogance is increasing, but now also studying, well what does humility and what does intellectual humility look like and where are the places that we can find that and how can we encourage that, and so I also think we’re making great strides in that direction now by starting to look at how we can define that and measure that and encourage that within the population.
Which is to say that, we’ve spent a long time looking at, really, bad examples and perhaps that’s natural. Maybe the first thing you notice when you look out at the world is negativity. We start there, but what I like about the endeavors of positive psychology is that we’re now focusing on good as well and we’re trying to look for more uplifting or exemplary approaches to human flourishing as well. Pete, from a social psychology perspective, what do you make of this idea about diagnosing our culture and how are we doing with respect to humility and pride?
Sure, yeah, it’s a good question. I think one of the things is, we have to recognize that we are a strongly individualistic culture. We all recognize that, that seems to emphasize putting your best foot forward. I tell graduates, undergraduate students who are applying to graduate school for example, now’s not the time to be humble, [laughing] and that’s just the way our culture seems to work. There’s, by the way there’s been very little research at this point done looking at cultural differences in humility and intellectual humility. There’s been some, but it’s somewhat limited. Virtually all of the research has been done in North America or western Europe.
Evan: I see.
But, that said, it’s often put your best foot forward, strike out there with confidence and boldness and let them know what you really think, and we even have words in religious terminology like stick to your convictions and these kinds of things that are, I think, somewhat culturally influenced, so we have to recognize that. I remember back, I think it was in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, I just recently saw a Saturday Night Live skit on this that was from that era, a repeat show, and there used to be a political show, I guess you would say, that was called Crossfire.
Evan: Oh yeah, Crossfire.
Yeah, and it was different journalists and some folks who were in politics themselves and so forth, as I recall, but it was almost always who could yell the loudest.
And I remember that was probably when I first started to think about humility.
Because I saw what was the opposite of humility, so I am glad to see this turn that we’ve had somewhat in thinking about this. How can we foster what we perceive as a virtue, but it’s gonna be tough in our culture because our culture doesn’t value it. I think it would be quite different if we were in a collectivistic culture, which would, as Liz was talking about, the scientific process earlier, which would be much more open, I think, to collaboration and working together whereas here, us academics know it’s how much we produce, how many publications do we get or how much grant money do we get as individuals versus the collective good.
And academics are by no means alone.
I mean, stacking the resume.
Very pervasive principle that you are what other people think you are.
Managing your image, this is deeply tied to the way that we project a self to everyone else and this is, it’s about not just your own self-regard but a very deep concern for how others regard you, and we can get all topsy-turvy on that one, and I hope to, but I wanted to pause here on this idea of being in an individualistic society that is very based on images. We’ve got a, we’re rearing a selfie generation right now where children as young as, honestly, one or even less than one are familiar with seeing themself on a screen, and I’ve recently heard a good point that when you look at a photo that’s not really you. I wonder if you would comment on the way we think about ourselves, if there is this lack of humility. What we’re talking about when we’re talking about humility is regard for self to some extent, so I wonder if you’d comment on what is the proper approach to thinking about the self. What would a healthy flourishing self perspective be?
There is a popular slogan that perhaps many people are familiar with. I think it’s attributed to C.S. Lewis, and that is that humility is not people thinking less of themselves, but they think of themselves less.
What I think is being suggested there is that it’s not that we don’t, that we’re not mindful of who we are, okay? Mindfulness is something that we hear a lot in psychology today, and I don’t think humble people are necessarily less mindful. What I do think is that there’s kind of a sense of a detached awareness, perhaps, that they can tend to see themselves as an object, maybe as other people see them. In fact, there’s an old term attributed, well you can tell it’s an old term just by the term itself. It’s called the looking glass self. It was coined over a century ago that we often see ourselves as we’re in a mirror, looking in a mirror, and the image that we’re seeing is how we think other people see us, and so yes, impressions are very important and we want to put out good impressions and so forth, but there is this natural social comparison process. I often tell my students, my first grade in graduate school was in a stat class and it was a 65, and I felt terrible because I never would get grades like that as an undergrad and I was wondering, am I up to this and so forth. So, then the teacher wrote up all of the grades on the board and, now this doesn’t sound very humble, but my 65 was the second highest grade in the class. Suddenly, ahh. [laughing] That looked good, you know. Why, because I was just suddenly engaged in a social comparison process.
And he explained that he gives hard exams and the average is designed to be a 50 and that’s just the way he operates but suddenly how my self-image changed so much because suddenly I saw myself relative to others and I’m, hey, I’m above average, you see.
And that’s another thing that social psychologists often talk about. We like to see ourselves above average. We don’t see ourselves so far above average that it’s unrealistic, but we don’t want to see ourselves below average either. It’s a nice balance between being self accurate but also feeling good about yourself.
It’s the Lake Wobegon children.
It’s the, that’s exactly what it is.
Every child is above average.
Peter: That’s right. [chuckling]
Liz, with respect to this idea of managing self-image, I wonder if you would just comment on what you observe in contemporary society the way people interact and are so very concerned to manage another person’s impression of them.
Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting topic to think about in terms of what does that do for a person for their own mental health.
To constantly feel like they have to be managing their image. It’s like a full time job to keep up with that.
And I think we’ve talked about the idea of the fact that we’re in such an individualistic society but I think the strength is that so much more because it really is isolating to be connected to your devices rather than connected to other people, and I think that that is part of the issue that we’re facing with people who are so concerned about what other people think about them but not the real other people, the other people who they’re connected to, their Facebook friends, right.
Not their real-life friends, who are the same people but they’re this different version of these other people and so I think that is something that is a real challenge for our society right now, and I like what you were talking about, that quote attributed to C.S. Lewis.
That’s one that I was thinking of as well, that idea that it’s not about thinking less of yourself, humility, it’s about thinking of yourself less, and along with that, the idea that humility doesn’t mean that you have to have a poor self-image. It’s obviously not an unrealistically high self-image, but that you have a realistic image of yourself and that’s something that’s really hard to create when you see yourself through all of your best photos on Facebook all the time, right, and when you project this image of, this is my life, this is what I look like. I delete all the ones that I don’t like, and so it’s hard to be honest with yourself, I think, when you’re trying to project a certain image and not being honest with the world when you spend so much time on that and so some have even defined humility itself as just complete honesty with yourself.
I like that definition, and I think that humility is deeply tied to our long-standing goal of self knowledge. We just want to be, we want to understand ourselves and our place in the world, and often we have to do that in response to others, but I find it so, it’s a grief really to think about this idea of when we interact with one another in these mediated forms and when we’re not connected to who we truly are and we’re not even connected to who other people truly are. Really, we’re just projections of ourselves trying to work our way into relationships with these other projections, and there’s this really thinned out experience. It doesn’t feel like it’s real, substantial connectivity, and it kind of points out the deep value that we all implicitly have for encountering another person as they really are and being genuine before them, being vulnerable and transparent. I wonder if you’d comment on some of the elements of culture that you think might be contributing, and perhaps this is linked up to some research, but what is pushing us to be more image-based and what is keeping us from connecting better with others.
Well, so much of our thinking these days is, as you’ve alluded to, to the political process, and I think so often. I’m not a politician, but if I were, I understand the pressure. If I’m a Republican or a Democrat, that what I say is being looked at the party leaders that I’m part of, what I say if I really speak what I think might not be favorably received by the leaders of my party, by the President or whoever it might be, and so there is a lot of external pressure, I think, and we can see it certainly in the political process, especially when there’s so much at stake and sometimes we refer to this in the field of psychology as ingroup-outgroup differences, and of course that can apply not just to politics. That applies to all domains of life.
Race, religion, gender, and so forth. We can just go on and on, where you live, what coast you live on, all of those kinds of things. So, there is an element, I think, that’s all societies probably are structured in ways that produce ingroups and outgroups, and we’re constantly fluctuating. Probably most of our concern is ingroup concern. We’re worried about what other members of my party or what other members of my religious faith or whatever might think if I really speak my mind about something.
So there is that constant issue, I think, that’s in front of people just by the nature of how society is structured.
In order to be accepted, I need to be perceived as toeing a particular line.
Right, and sometimes there’s real tangible elements that are involved in this, like for a politician I might not get the support of my party come next election.
I might not have a job.
Yeah, I might not have a job, that’s right.
And the goodness of intellectual humility in those contexts. Now, I might set up a problem like this. What does it mean to be a humble leader, a person that strives to influence other people, right, to win friends and influence people, strives a form of power in fact, and yet more and more we’re noticing that humility does impact leadership and a form of humble leadership can in fact be the most impacting and effective forms of leadership. How do we hold these things in hand, striving for power and making yourself less than the other?
You pose a problem well. So someone who is a leader who has influence, right. We can define leadership as influence over others, is not in a position where he or she necessarily has to be humble, so a leader can push his or her own agenda, has the power to do so by definition of being a leader and so that person is going to be challenged to be humble because it’s not required and so that’s a great context in which to study leadership and my particular project, on the grant that I was just mentioning, is focusing on servant leadership, which is kind of what you were just describing, that idea of a person who is motivated by a desire to serve others rather than primarily motivated by the desire to have power and exercise power over others, and so what that looks like is a person who is in a leadership position but does so because he or she wants to help subordinates develop to be the best that they can be and to increase well-being among the people being led as opposed to merely exercise power over those individuals, and so one of my questions for that project is whether helping people to move in a direction of servant leadership actually increases their intellectual humility. So rather than staging an intervention where you help people to be more intellectually humble, you actually have an intervention focusing on servant leadership. What does it mean to be a servant leader, and the theory behind this is then that intellectual humility is actually the vehicle through which they make that happen, so in order to be a servant leader they have to be intellectually humble, they have to realize that other people have valuable ideas to offer, that they might have some things to learn from others and that that might allow them to be those servant leaders rather than those only seeking power.
Yeah. Jim Collins wrote a well-known book, Good to Great.
And in that, he did some research. It wasn’t all real strong scientific research, but it was good research by and large, and what he discovered is in those companies that really sustain over time doing better than the average in terms of, oftentimes it was just the bottom line in terms of profitability, was where leaders seemed to show a good deal of humility and part of that is probably involved in the decision making processes that often under good business practices. So, for instance by sometimes not having all the answers, by going to a team of subordinates, perhaps even, in terms of their position, they’re subordinates. They might not be intellectually subordinate or anything such as that, but in terms of their position the subordinates in the structure of the company, for example. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers, giving them a voice, and that seems to not only often produce decisions that are good decisions, but it actually makes people feel much more committed to the project or to the company or whatever it might be simply because they’ve had input. Interestingly enough, and I wish I knew his name. I don’t have it with me, or nor off the top of my head, but the director of HR at Google says that the number one human trait that they’re looking for is humility.
In hiring, yeah. Hiring at mid-level management and up.
Well Google, don’t be evil. [laughing] Right, that’s their slogan.
Be humble, don’t be evil.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Leadership is pretty popular in Christian circles. I mean, in some sense what I get, or what I got from it in my youth as a Christian was that every Christian was supposed to be a leader, [chuckling] and I wonder if you might comment on what it’s like to have a room full of leaders and how humility can facilitate a process by which all of these people, which are geared toward influence and leadership, they might actually operate as a group. What do you think about, about leaders interacting together?
Yeah, so often it depends on what Liz alluded to a little while ago and that is your understanding of leadership. If it’s servant leadership, if everybody has that attitude, leaders operating together can be a very effective tool. If on the other hand, it’s a power struggle, then of course it’s very ineffective. So I think we have to investigate and think about, well really what is leadership and what is my motive for being a leader? I think that’s so important and if it’s just to exert influence or to exert power, to get my way, to try to convince other people that I am perhaps, I alone am right, then that’s a recipe for problems in the church or in any organization.
Yeah, it sounds then that your conception of humility can have a really deep impact on your conception of leadership and how you go about trying to lead.
Okay. Liz, you’ve been looking also at some studies where you’re looking at a nationally representative sample of U.S. pastors.
And comparing them to other people.
And thinking about their intellectual humility.
For sure, right, yeah.
With respect to others, so are pastors more or less intellectually humble than other people?
So that project was actually a Barna Research Group project where they collected this great sample, nationally representative sample of U.S. pastors where they looked up all of the churches with addresses or email addresses or phone numbers and then also got a random sample, a random digit-dial sample of U.S. adults and then they used a few of the items on a scale of intellectual humility that I had developed, and so we don’t have overall scores for intellectual humility ’cause they didn’t use the whole scale, but they were just looking at, on those items, how do pastors respond compared to the general population?
And for the most part, pastors were on par or even were expressing slightly more intellectual humility than the general population. The item that stood out most where they were expressing intellectual humility compared to others was one about their willingness to change their minds when warranted, so pastors seem to be expressing, yeah when it comes down to it, I’m willing to change my mind when I realize I’ve been wrong, but on the other hand the item where pastors really were expressing a lot less intellectual humility than the general population was an item about, the statement was when I’m really confident in a belief, there’s very little chance that I’m wrong, and so where 44% of the general population agreed with that statement, 69% of pastors were agreeing with that statement.
So this idea that, well when I’m really confident then I’m probably not wrong, and so some people say, well isn’t that the case? Doesn’t my confidence relate to how likely I am to be right, but what we know from research in general is that’s not the case, so there’s a weak to nonexistent relationship between how confident we feel about something and how right we are about that thing.
And we’ve seen very sad.
And tragic examples of the contrary.
Yeah, absolutely, and so I think what we can realize what can be helpful for religious leaders and for all of us is that that’s a cognitive bias to which we’re all prone as individuals, and so it’s not that we can even get rid of that cognitive bias necessarily but just being aware of that cognitive bias, so when I feel really confident or really sure about something, just to be aware, that doesn’t mean that I’m right. I could still be wrong.
But that can be a really helpful tool for religious leaders and for all of us. I know for me, it helps me in my marriage, right. When I’m having an argument with my husband and I feel like, I’m sure that this is the case, [laughing] to just realize, well, the science says that doesn’t mean that I’m right. I could be completely wrong, and even things like eyewitness testimony. We know that even when people are really sure about what they saw, they’re often wrong.
And so it’s not very reliable at all, and so that’s hard sometimes to get across to a jury who thinks, oh this person is saying they saw this so it has to be true. We all fall into that bias, and so awareness, I think, is the key there.
Yeah, I’m gonna have to try that, bringing some scientific data to my next argument with my wife. [laughing]
Peter: Good luck.
I like this idea of exploring changing one’s mind, and it really is one of those, perhaps, indicators of intellectual humility. Just how likely are we to entertain positions that are opposed to our own, whether that comes in the form of perspective-taking or maybe even just entertaining arguments from the other side? I do this exercise with my philosophy students. I say tell me what you think about issue X and have them discuss it for a little bit amongst themselves and then I say, okay now stop, negate your own position and argue for the exact opposite, and you just hear these audible groans, [laughing] and rightly so because, well, that’s what we believe. We find ourselves believing a particular thing. Changing one’s mind, though, is seen as a virtue sometimes. Sometimes, especially in politics, it’s seen as a vice. What do you make of this idea of changing one’s mind as an indicator for intellectual humility and how can we help others appropriately be open to this idea of changing one’s mind?
Yeah, well I do include that. So when I assess intellectual humility I include that as one of the component parts so I see that as part of the definition of being intellectually humble. We can also think of it as openmindedness in general which is a similar construct.
Evan: Yeah, it’s connected in many ways, yeah.
Yeah, and I think it’s an individual difference. I think that that’s something that some people are more prone to doing than other people and as you mentioned, sometimes we see that as a great strength but sometimes we see people as being wishy-washy or being weak when they change their minds, but I really think that it is a strength, and that that’s an individual difference in that no one is always going to be open to that and no one is always going to, it can cut both ways so we gotta see, what is someone’s characteristic way of being.
I think that sometimes in our discussion of humility it can come across as, you shouldn’t have strong beliefs, you shouldn’t have convictions about something.
Evan: How can we be humble about our convictions?
Yeah, and I don’t think that humility means that. I think that you still, we have to have beliefs. We have to have convictions in order to make sense of the world. I mean, it’s our lens, it creates coherency to our understanding of the world in that, this seems to be right. The question is, how open are you if there are compelling arguments, if there are compelling reasons that are justified, other equally intelligent, maybe even some cases more intelligent people, who have a different way of understanding and seeing, and how open are you to even considering that? I think that, not that you’ll necessarily change.
But it’s the openness to other information that I think is the key marker or indicator of humility. So, in the area for pastors and other religious individuals, Christians, you have beliefs and those beliefs drive your faith. Are you not even willing to even listen to somebody who might have a different belief? If you’re in discussion with that person, are you only thinking about what your answer is going to be?
And I think that would be an indication of perhaps low humility. Doesn’t mean that you have to be convinced by that other person, but that you are willing to consider.
And it seems like a closedmindedness like that can even be an inhibitor to seeking the truth. In our contemporary context, most people consider humility as a virtue. Humble people are praised and well regarded, we gravitate toward them, but that was not always the case and perhaps even today there are still people who do think of humility as in fact a vice, but philosophers such as Aristotle thought humility was a form of weakness that prevented you from becoming great. Nietzsche thought that humility was a form of ressentiment that just was playing to your weaknesses, and David Hume is known for calling humility a monkish virtue, something that is not to be desired. That all raises the question of, what is it, what is humility? How do we define it, and in particular how do we define an intellectual humility? So when you guys begin your research, what definitions do you start with?
Well, I’ve been privileged to be part of the Center for Christian Thought at Biola University, and I was what’s called an internal fellow, which means I’m on the faculty at Biola but I was invited this past fall to be part of the group that gets together, and a lot of my thoughts on humility were greatly influenced by that semester, and one of the things that I became more aware of, I was somewhat aware of this but I became even more appreciative of it was just how careful some of the contemporary thinking has been on humility among philosophers and among theologians as well. So it seems like there’s certain dimensions if you will or if you want, actually the philosophers themselves would say, no we’ve got to get at the core of what this means and I see as psychologists, we’re a little bit more, maybe I should say functional about it. How does this operate in our lives, but they’re really trying to get at the core, and a couple of things that came out. One perspective says, well it’s a low concern for status, for example, so I’m not always thinking about am I going to get this award. I’m not always thinking about, as a teacher, am I going to get the best teacher evaluations from my students, and if I think that maybe I should do something that maybe even students would think is unpopular but I think that it’s good for them to have that experience, I might be willing to do that without a regard for getting good teacher ratings, for example. So that’s one view, and I think a pretty convincing view in many ways. Another is just simply own limitations, that you recognize the limits of your own views, of your own perspective in the case of intellectual humility. Another perspective is that it really is a being with, and sometimes that’s being with those who are less privileged, less fortunate, and you can look at the Philippians passage of Christ humbling Himself by coming and being with us in human form.
That’s right, right. So I think all of these, there’s many others, but those are three that I think stand out that I’ve learned from philosophers. Now I don’t know if we can empirically get at all of those with all of the nuances that philosophers want us to do, but I think it’s really helped me zero in a little bit more on the depth and richness of the concept.
Hmm. I wonder if you might just introduce us to the idea of, how would you measure humility. This is something that you’re both interested in and working on. How do you measure something like humility that seems so difficult, especially when you’re working with self-reporting, self-assessment, or even with respect to others? We’ve talked about this, managing image. What if I’ve just tricked everybody into thinking I’m humble? So how, what are you guys looking for when you’re looking for humility in someone and trying to measure it?
Yeah, I think that is really complicated, how do we measure humility, and I think that’s why humility as a virtue has been slower to develop in psychological research, because it’s so hard to pinpoint and when someone tells you they’re humble, then are they humble or are they not humble, so that’s the tricky part about using self-report, and so you mention there are some other options, so one thing is you can ask people to talk about their own thoughts about how humble they are or how intellectually humble they are. There are other options. You can have other people report, or what we call round robin reporting, where you have people in groups get to know one another and then each person reports on each other person and then you calculate a group consensus and so that’s something that’s a little bit more helpful than just having someone else, one other person observe because intellectual humility can be very difficult sometimes to observe in someone else and so what I like about the self-report aspect of it is that you can get some of the intra-psychic, underlining thoughts and opinions and motivations related to intellectual humility, though on the outside might just look like someone being friendly or someone being introverted or someone being tired. We know that other report from some research sometimes confuses different constructs with intellectual humility, versus the person themselves maybe has a little bit more insight into that. So I think the gold standard is to use multiple methods, so to ask people a variety of questions, getting out, describing how you think of intellectual humility, having people rate that, but then also having other people report and using the group consensus reports for intellectual humility or humility, generally.
Yeah. Pete, what do you?
Well, one thought that came to my mind, actually when you were talking, Evan, about when you give this little exercise in the classes that you teach would be to, once students groan about having to present arguments
For the other side, have them right then assess well, how strongly do they resist this.
And again, it’s a self-reporting, but it might be a little bit more of a subtle self-reporting. We’re not asking now directly about humility, but we’re talking about a marker of humility, and so if we can be creative and there are some creative attempts to try to find what are some ways in which humility should be playing itself out, and so little things like that. We’ve thought about all sorts of things like, how many trophies does a kid keep up in his room, or how many diplomas do we keep on our walls. [chuckling] Whatever it might be that might be indicators. We’re not convinced that we’re really getting at humility with all of that, but at least we’re thinking about it.
We have evidence that we like humble people. People see this as a virtue. Now it may not always play out as a virtue, but people by and large see it as a good characteristic, a classical strength if you will.
And I think that it’s so important not only because people like it, but because it’s kind of like a social oil if you will. It greases the interpersonal machinery. When you’re around somebody who’s arrogant, I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be around ’em that much more. I want to avoid them.
Evan: You shut down.
Yeah we do, we shut down, and that’s not conducive to working out problems. That’s not conducive to decision making, it’s not conducive to running a government, running a company, or running a church.
Yeah, and it allows us to operate only with the images that we’re projecting. It allows us to only operate with assuming certain things about ourselves that might be just false representation. If we’re really concerned with the truth and we think that the truth can in fact be effective, and I would say yes, it’s good that we use facts and it’s good that we seek truth in all of these societal contexts. Looks like, it’s surprising that we’re getting by if we’re so arrogant. Humility might be this absolute, essential thing to get people really working together and working with one another. What else do you see? I mean, Liz you look at pro-social behavior that kind of emerges from being intellectually humble.
I wonder if you’d speak to that.
Yeah, well I think that it is so relevant on an individual level but also the interpersonal level.
And so one of the things that I was looking at is how intellectual humility relates to being altruistic, being benevolent towards others, having a universal perspective that really values all people and even nature, and being less power-seeking so having less of a desire to domineer over others, and so intellectual humility was related to all of those things in the directions that you might predict, so being more benevolent, being more altruistic, being less power-seeking and what it seems like is that that may be occurring through perspective taking and through empathy so both kind of the cognitive and the emotional forms of empathy, having empathetic concern for others, being able to take another person’s perspective. The intellectual humility might be a precursor to those mental abilities and those emotional abilities that have already for so long been established as being related to these positive outcomes like being altruistic, helping others, caring about others, putting other people’s needs first, so we know that being empathetic and also being grateful, so I’d add gratitude in there, being grateful towards others is associated with all of these beneficial, interpersonal, pro-social outcomes, and so the question is, is intellectual humility a precursor to that? Is that kind of the vehicle that allows us to even get to that place where we can take someone else’s perspective by first being humble about our own, realizing that maybe we don’t know it all, realizing that other people have things to offer, help us to be more grateful, to be more empathetic, and then that allows us to, that’s kind of that ripple effect of intellectual humility that then we’re more likely to put others’ needs first, more likely to help others and engage with others.
It looks like in that sense, humility comes as part of a package or at least can help us along a path toward a more complete picture of virtuous, moral, and intellectual character.
I like this idea of it being either foundational or perhaps in the middle or an interconnecting kind of virtue, that it can facilitate openmindedness on one hand, love on another, generosity, gratitude. I mean, these are all things that, if it’s connected in such a way, then perhaps it is this core virtue that we really need to spend time on. How can we become humble? How, what work in psychology directs us to particular practices as very reliable to produce humility?
Well, I think it starts with an attitude, and you may have something more to say about the particular practices, but something that you were already mentioning before about the idea of seeking truth and I think if your attitude is that you want to seek truth as opposed to that you want to be right, that that goes a long way in being more intellectually humble.
And I think that sometimes it’s, we were talking about the idea of does intellectual humility mean that we’re weak or that we don’t have strong convictions, and I think that it’s the opposite. I think that when we’re intellectually humble that that gives us the strength and the courage to have strong convictions knowing that we, that it’s okay if we end up learning and growing and getting closer to the truth, that that’s not a threat to our current perspective, and so I think part of the attitude is seeing yourself as a truthseeker rather than placing your emphasis on yourself as a knower, because we know that we have limits. Our cognitive abilities are limited and so just having confidence in the truth and wanting to get closer to the truth, I think is a great starting point in terms of increasing intellectual humility.
I think the actually putting people in circumstances where they are around people with different perspectives, with different understandings of things, is often in a kind of roundabout way, a way that induces humility. Boy, I haven’t thought of it just that way, or I can see if I had been raised with that background or from that culture. We haven’t talked about cultural humility, but this is often something that people experience when they travel to another culture, that you often see the limits of your own culture and your own way of thinking when you start being involved in other cultures, so I think sometimes it’s just an exposure. We do know that the more people are exposed to other people, maybe it’s people of different races or different cultures, the more they like those people.
Okay, and so I think there is this bit of empathy that gets generated, perspective taking that gets generated, just by simple exposure, and sometimes I feel like, from as a church, we tend to huddle together so much and we don’t think much about our relationships outside of the church that maybe we can learn some things from those who are outside.
Yeah, in that sense this idea of getting out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself into even possible conflict with a goal of course of being loving and having goals of genuine communication and connecting, but exposing your ideas outside of your norm, outside of your own ingroup. That looks like that might.
Yeah, at the same time I’m a little skeptical.
And the reason is that, for instance, I think an intervention that’s designed to make people humble, I’m not so sure that’s gonna work. First of all, there can be such confusion and misunderstanding of what humility is that people think they’re getting more humble when perhaps they’re not and so I think we have to be very careful. I think it would have to be much more subtle, so the example of exposure to other people as a subtle way that might help develop humility without it being an explicit goal.
In and of itself.
Thinking about the goals of humility really, if my goal to become humble is really just so that other people will think I’m so humble, [laughing] and like me more because of it.
That suggests that I don’t think, or that suggests I don’t understand humility. I don’t understand the goals of it. I don’t understand the point of being humble. I’m gonna ask both of you to reflect here in conclusion about why be humble, what are the goals here really. What is it aimed toward?
Yeah, I think this circles back to what we were talking about before about definitions of humility. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less, and if that’s how you view humility, so it’s not about, oh let people think about how humble I am, it’s about how can I shift my focus to things outside of myself, right, and just think about how much you’re free to help and serve and make a difference, make an impact when you’re not focused on yourself, when you’re focused on a greater good or a goal or helping someone else and so I think being humble allows you to get there so for that reason I think it’s pretty important.
Yeah, and I think one element of humility that we haven’t touched on and earlier when I was giving some different views, owning limitations and so forth, one of them, I think, is seeing yourself as part of the bigger picture, which I feel that sense of transcendence which is part of the Christian message. I’m, the world is not centered around me. There’s a much bigger issue, sometime I’m going to pass and they’ll say nice things, maybe, maybe, at my funeral, [chuckling] and then life goes on, and I think that seeing where your particular role is is so important and so it comes back to the point that Liz was making earlier and that is, really what is the motivation. Is it to seek truth, is it to really gain understanding, or is there some sort of ego investment that’s here, and I think if we can take some inventory about that issue, I think the world would be a better place, whether it be politics and the church, or in the workplace, wherever it might be.
Well, Liz and Pete, I’m proud to know you. [laughing] I think you both should be proud of your work, and thank you so much for being with me today.
This has been a pleasure.