Who invited humility? - Saint Mary's University of Minnesota Skip to Main Content
Go Back

Who invited humility?

February 25, 2021

Doctoral Chevrons News

As I set out to write this essay, my mindset was not thinking about humility. I had come off a long day of work and sufficient home/life chaos that left me drained. For all intents and purposes, I was the guest of honor at my own pity party. My mind was filled with thoughts of how difficult my day had been and how hard I had it. Then, I began to search for inspiration for this essay. Humility came to crash my party and my day turned around.

The source of my inspiration was Raymond Tang’s presentation on the lessons of humility we can learn from water (TED, 2017). Listening to Tang and thinking about my personal state at the time illuminated the root of my problem with all I was facing was, surprisingly, me. And, paradoxically, the solution to my problem was also me.

My struggles were rooted in a desire to be in control and on top of the various things in my workday and personal life which were all competing for my attention. Then, my response to my own management of these things was to sulk in the volume them and allow my energy and mood to be depleted. It did not have to go this way; one always has other options.

If I would have embraced humility in this situation, I would have realized that I am only one person, with limits to resources and who cannot control as much as I think I can. The outcome of the first approach compared to the second approach is vast, and it all comes down to how much importance I place on myself. One lesson from the philosophy of water Tang references is its ability to achieve harmony in times of conflict. He suggests, “If we think about water flowing towards a rock, it will just flow around it. It doesn’t get upset, it doesn’t get angry, it doesn’t get agitated … When faced with an obstacle, somehow water finds a solution, without force, without conflict” (5:11 – 5:29).

Embracing humility makes traversing difficult times much easier. There is no need to get distracted by one’s title or power, because the greatest value comes from the collective, not the individual. As Tang observes, “All streams eventually flow to the ocean because it is lower than them” (4:47 – 4:51).

Humility is not only a means to get through difficult times, it is also a force that can propel one into meaningful experiences such as learning. Embracing humility frees one from façade that he or she must have an answer to everything because they hold a certain degree or title. Humility allows one to be ready for and receptive to new learning which can come from anywhere and anyone.

Humility may seem like an undesirable party guest at first, especially when one has worked diligently for his or her achievements. Humility is not so much about giving up achievements, but more about allowing oneself to still be a human being and fully present with others in spite of great achievements. For myself, I’m glad humility knocked on my door and came to show me the way.


Tang, R. (2017, December). Be humble – and other lessons from the philosophy of water [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/raymond_tang_be_humble_and_other_lessons_from_the_philosophy_of_water?language=en