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.

A student who is struggling with a mathematical concept reaches out to her friend who aced the last exam to ask for help.
Rather than get defensive, a student acknowledges he spoke unkindly to another student and apologizes for his behavior.

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.

In a classroom that values intellectual humility, students are safe to ask questions, not know the answer, make mistakes, take risks, and share their opinions and ideas.

Cultural humility is “a process of reflection and lifelong inquiry,” that involves examining one’s biases and demonstrating respect for and equally valuing other people’s backgrounds and experiences.

An elementary school student learns that his Christian friend values praying before a meal, so he waits patiently during their lunch time before trying to engage in conversation. He also shows an interest in learning about his friend’s religious beliefs.

Why Is It Important?

Humility might help students develop a sense of purpose.

  • Adolescents with a strong sense of purpose also display great humility, while those low in purpose display low humility.
  • Humility allows students to seek guidance from others, forming mentorship relationships that can help set students on track to achieve their goals in life.


Humility makes us healthier—physically and mentally—and helps us form positive relationships.


Intellectual humility is positively related with academic performance.

  • Students high in intellectual humility demonstrate a greater ability to recognize their own mistakes, and engage in more mastery behaviors—such as seeking challenges and persisting after setbacks.
  • Students who practice intellectual humility also show greater intrinsic motivation and receptiveness to feedback, qualities that are important to students’ academic success.


Intellectual Humility can help foster positive relationships.

  • 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.


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“Humility is the surest sign of strength.”
–Thomas Merton
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