Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where is humility hiding?

This was published in The South Asian Times on September 4th.

When I was little, I used to hear a joke where each kid in a group of kids would boast about how his dad can drink exceptionally hot tea. "My dad can drink it so hot that steam would come out from his ears". "My dad can drink it so hot that sugar would melt in a split second". Finally the last kid would say "My dad can just sit on the stove and put all the ingredients in his mouth and tea would be made instantly".

There were more of the same. They sounded so silly at the time but I didn't realize they all have one key ingredient. Boasting. As a kid grows, that quality changes from boasting about parents to boasting about himself and his surroundings. The part of India that I'm from, this practice is very rampant. Narcissism is quite the order of the day, everyday. Obsession with one's professional accomplishments, talent, property, prized possessions, foreign trips, pay packages, who they know... it's never ending. At times it is in the form of a joke, at times by putting someone else down and most times just out of context.

Then I moved to US and got to know a whole lot of people, who despite being from varied backgrounds back home were all students and/or new professionals struggling to settle down. Every one with that profile had a down to earth quality about them which was so refreshing, so real. It’s quite an endearing trait. But every so often, I still run into narcissists and wonder, where is humility hiding?

We live in a society that shares all our joys and sorrows in innumerable ways so it’s only natural that we divulge all sorts of information about our high points in life. But there's a fine line between sharing our joys and being arrogant about it, one that is hard to notice. The problem with being too self-absorbed is that at some point, even if one might lose traction or interest and decide to do away with it, it's invariably too late since your immediate circle has grown to expect that from you. It's a stature that you only have the ability to build, not the ability to break away from.

The added drawback of indulging in constant self-praise is the harm it causes to the weak mind in your vicinity. It leads to inferiority complex, low self esteem and general dissatisfaction with one’s life for a chosen few around you. Even a mild form of depression in some cases is not uncommon.

Narcissists frequently forget to be a part of other people’s happiness since they’re often too busy getting people to be a part of their own. Creating barriers in your relationships is as easy as that – forgetting to be a part of the other person’s happiness, however minuscule it is. It can only go downhill from there. Scratch on the surface and see what the reality of it is. It might just surprise you, and not in a good way.

On the other hand, being humble gets you noticed one way or the other. It’s the classic case of a great new house for sale on the market. If the listing price is too high, a few might come to have a look but it might evoke little to no activity and it’ll stay on the market for months. On the other hand, if the listing price is below market, chances are that quite a few buyers will fall in love with the property and price giving rise to bidding wars and before you know it, it’s sold for a lot higher than list price.

Does humility translate into timidity? Not at all. Bruna Martinuzzi says “Humility is all about maintaining our pride about who we are, about our achievements, about our worth - but without arrogance”. So go ahead, make humility the most beautiful word in English language. You won’t regret it.

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