Genesis begins with stories of mankind’s pride—the Fall and the Tower of Babel. Both these stories demonstrate man’s attempts to overreach his capabilities to, in effect, to try to be God. Thousands of years later we still use this same expression when people dominate and try to have everything their own way—”he thinks he’s God”!
By contrast, humility has a central place in Christ’s teaching. It is in direct contrast with the kind of pride, where people “think they are God” Ultimately, this kind of pride drives someone to “compete with God”, whereas humility acknowledges that God is God and that we should live in trusting dependence upon God.
Jesus taught his followers that if they wished to enter the Kingdom of Heaven they must be like children (Mark chapter 10 verse 14). We all know that children are quite capable of various types of both good and poor behaviour, and are programmed to believe that the whole world revolves around them, but this is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is challenging people to be humble, like those who, in his time and place, had no legal or social standing. Throughout his teaching, Jesus uses a series of images and examples to encourage his disciples to “take the lowest place” (Luke chapter 14 verse 10) , or “to wash each other’s feet” (John chapter 13 verses 13-15). Similarly In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus criticises those who are ‘confident in their own righteousness’ (Luke chapter 18 verses 9-14). The Pharisee’s prayer is nothing but loud self-congratulation, whilst the tax-collector is full of penitent humility and here Jesus concludes with the words: ‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’
The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation – the Son of God taking human flesh – is presented by Paul as the ultimate act of humility in which Christ ‘emptied himself ’ and took the form of a slave (Philippians chapter 2 verses 5-11). The Christian message insists that it is through identifying with Christ’s humble service and sacrifice that we rediscover that other truth about ourselves – that we are sons and daughters of God and made in God’s image.
Thus humility is an attitude that challenges the values of our surrounding culture. It does not exclude satisfaction in the successful use of our talents or in a job well done, but the truly humble person will always recognise that our gifts are from God and that, in relation to God, all human achievements are small and short-lived.
(And when you are thinking humility don’t think Uriah Heap!)
Humility in School
- How are pupils and adults encouraged to put others first?
- How do you encourage pupils and adults to recognise their mistakes and learn from them?
- How do you encourage pupils to be proud of their achievements yet at the same time humble, without it being a false humility?
- How do you encourage people to celebrate others’ achievements, even when it means they personally have been surpassed by someone else?
- How do you encourage a sense of self-worth in people without feeding arrogance or self-centredness?
- How do you encourage pupils and adults to ask for help when they need it?
- Many children, when asked, simply want “to be famous” – how do you give pupils opportunities for service, and the ability to appreciate the need for people to play supporting roles or carry out mundane tasks?
- How does the school plan “celebration assemblies” so that they include worship of God as well as the giving of thanks for the gifts and talents one has been given?
- Are special acts of worship (e.g. at Christmas) to which parents are invited planned as worship or as a “show”?
- How does worship, at Christmas time in particular, help convey the message of the Incarnation?
- In RE, do pupils learn about the mystery of the Incarnation?
- How do you help pupils listen to, and understand and appreciate, the views of other people, rather than always putting themselves forward?
- How are pupils able to come to terms with a problematic value such as humility when they live in a celebrity focussed culture?
- Where do pupils learn about people who are examples of service to others, and think about them as examples for their own lives?
- Are we humble about the limits of our own knowledge, and open to the idea that we may be mistaken?
- How do senior leaders and governors consult with others on matters of policy and practice in the school?
- Does your leadership style demonstrate humility and a willingness to listen to others and value their opinions?
- What do you count as true achievement and success?