Humility for Adults
What Is It?
In general, humility allows people to see and accept their own strengths and limitations without defensiveness or judgment. According to research, humble people share certain qualities. First, they’re less hypersensitive to information or situations that challenge their own ideas about who they are, e.g., I’m smart, I’m caring, I’m generous. They also have the ability to see one’s self and others more clearly, without exaggerating the good or the bad.
Humble people are open to new information in a way that allows them to continue learning about themselves and the world. And they focus more on others rather than themselves, showing greater appreciation and awareness of others in their day-to-day lives. Finally, they believe that other people are equally important and have the same intrinsic value.
When a department head tells her best teacher that he needs to be open to ideas from other educators, the teacher thanks her for her feedback and promises to listen better to his colleagues.
A school principal admits to the staff that he needs their help in knowing how to respond to certain parent complaints.
Beyond general humility, researchers have identified particular forms of humility that each offer greater insights into the importance of humility, such as intellectual humility and cultural humility.
People who practice intellectual humility recognize the limits of their knowledge and express appreciation for others’ ability to provide insights.
A veteran teacher with many years of experience reaches out to a 1st-year teacher for ideas on how to incorporate technology into her pedagogy.
A high school mental health professional whose cultural and economic background differs from most of the students questions her assumptions about a student’s family situation before speaking to the parents.
Why Is It Important?
Humility makes us healthier, both physically and mentally.
- Humble people handle stress more effectively, report higher levels of physical and mental well-being, and are more likely to resist substance use.
Humility helps to build positive school climates.
- School leaders who recognize their strengths and limitations, remain open to feedback, ideas, and advice, and express appreciation for the value that others bring to the table—all cornerstones of humility—create a school culture in which teachers are more satisfied with their jobs.
- Teachers believe the most effective school leaders are those who show high levels of humility with at least a moderate level of self-confidence. Leaders who show low humility, but high confidence are considered to be the least effective. And those with high humility but low confidence are perceived to be doubtful, indecisive, and insecure.
- Leaders higher in intellectual humility have been found to be respected more. These leaders also rate themselves as being more oriented toward “servant-leadership,” which emphasizes that the role of a leader is, first and foremost, to serve their people or community.
- Because intellectually humble people are more intellectually curious and open-minded, they are more likely to view failures as opportunities to learn rather than shortcomings—which can help build psychologically safe classrooms and schools.
Humility can help foster positive relationships.
- Humble people show greater generosity, helpfulness, and gratitude—all things that can only serve to draw us closer to others.
- People higher in intellectual humility are viewed as more agreeable and competent by their peers and are more likely to be forgiven after committing a moral transgression.
- People high in intellectual humility are more willing to learn about opposing views and are better able to engage in conversations about contentious topics, offering supportive statements and maintaining a non-hostile environment.