Saturday, February 5, 2011

Humility vs. Humiliation

I have a friend I watched rise from underprivileged and abusive roots to achieve much of what the world would call success: He secured a good education, found a job that paid handsomely, married and had a healthy son, and bought a beautiful home and expensive cars.  Through it all, though, he carried with him a small, almost indiscernible sense of entitlement and victimhood—as if his thorny past entitled him to these things.

Not so many years later, I also watched as he was, one by one, stripped of each of these things. The job was lost in a shameful scandal, the marriage ended acrimoniously and custody of his son was granted to his ex wife, and the home and the cars were all eventually repossessed.  The previous sense of entitlement and victimhood now pressed to the forefront of his character. Bitterness, blame, and resentment became hallmarks of his personality. One day, he remarked to me sullenly, “Why is this all of this happening to me? Now, I have truly been humbled.”

“No,” I thought to myself. “You have not been humbled. You have allowed yourself to be humiliated.”

Growing up as a gay Mormon, I—like many of you—experienced probably more than my fair share of humiliating situations. From this, and from watching the rise and subsequent fall of my friend, I began to wonder about the nature of humility versus humiliation for all of us. What, really, is the difference between these two words which sound so much alike to the causal listener—and arguably, have definitions that somewhat overlap?

Humiliation is something that shames; it heaps a burden of disgrace, dishonor, and embarrassment upon its subject. It is a condition of pessimism, of victimhood, and more importantly—of weakness. Humility, by contrast, is a position of strength. Humility is gratefully recognizing our complete dependence upon our Savior—through the good times, and the bad. It means we know our strength actually resides within our dependence—and helps us know that we are never alone, despite how we may feel or how our circumstances may appear.

Humiliation breeds fear; humility instills courage. 

When we feel humiliated, I think it is a sign that something is spiritually out of balance—that somehow, in some small way, we’ve lost sight of our rightful place with our Savior and with our fellow humans. Instead of recognizing our dependence—and gaining the courage to be found there—we’ve placed our own pride and self-will in its stead, and resultingly, the potential for shame that it brings.

Such was the case for my friend. To him, the journey of life was akin to climbing a ladder. Everyone was either above him—to be admired, awed, and envied—or below him, to be scorned and judged. When we hold this view, our thoughts, words, and deeds become driven by actions that will move us higher up the ladder—we lose focus on our dependence on our Savior, esteem secular achievement over spiritual growth, and often end up knocking other people off the ladder—or being knocked off ourselves.

A healthier view for me is to view life as a journey with my fellows as peers, each of us pressing onward on our prescribed paths, to learn the lessons that life is intended to teach us. None of us is ahead of another—so there is no need for envy. None of us is behind another—so there is no need for judgment and scorn. True, each path is unique to every traveler—some may appear easier than others, and others, conversely, seem more arduous and demanding. But if viewed through the lens of humility, it becomes clear that each path is geared to teach each of us what we individually need to know to come to rely upon our Savior, and, eventually, return to our Father.
Today, when my life’s journey brings me to a situation that feels humiliating, I will choose to view it through the lens of humility. This will lend me a peaceful heart, and a courageous spirit. It will help me see myself, my situation, and others in true perspective, and keep my mind open to the truth.

How will you choose to view your journey today?


  1. what a fantastic lesson... i will certainly be sharing these thoughts when its my turn to teach in eq.

  2. Absolutely awesome post! Thank you!