The Benefits of Humility and the Dangers of Hubris

And seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble—

Al-Baqarah 2:45

People always tell me to be humble but they never tell me why I should be humble. Usually, they may just quote Proverbs 16:18 to me and say, “Pride goes before a fall”

18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

For some people, a verse is enough for the wise. Others, they don’t need an explanation for why to be humble. Humility just intuitively feels like the right thing to do. I also intuitively feel and notice that life is better when I am humble. But my curious mindset required me to find an explanation for why humility is important.

I also wanted to dig into the importance of humility because I find it often gets conflated with beliefs that perpetuate complacency and erode our self-esteem: “Don’t be confident”, “don’t be ambitious” and “Don’t think you can change the status quo”.

However, I think I understand now why humility is important. It makes us more aware of our shortcomings and more ready for improvement.

What I Used to Think about Humility

I used to think being humble or rather, pretending to be humble was an act that cocky people put on to appear more endearing and harmless. To an extent, the skeptical part of me still thinks this is true. I believe many politicians, some very successful CEOs, certain celebrities, and other cunning sociopaths put on an “aw shucks” personality and wear “everyday” clothes to appear humble despite secretly thinking they are better than you. So I thought humility is something you pretend to be to come across as more likable.

I also used to think humility is a tool to gatekeep information. I would often see someone do something impressive, I would ask them how to do it and they would be all “Aw shucks, I don’t know, I’m just lucky or we thank God” but avoid giving me practical tips so I can also improve my life.

While I think such people do exist and these are some of the reasons people pretend to be humble. I have a more nuanced, less cynical, and more optimistic view of humility.

What I Think about Humility Now

I believe that humility is important because it’s the natural effect of realizing that all the success we have are the result of gifts that were given to use freely.

Despite my “bombastic side-eye” to Jeff Bezos’s huge hoarding of wealth, high-pressure Amazon culture (I’m not throwing stones in my glass house full of Amazon purchases!), and post-divorce escapades, he does have some wise sayings.

You Can Never Be Proud Of Being Handsome, Beautiful, Smart Or Tall Because Those Are ‘Gifts’ — You Didn’t Do Anything: ‘You Can Only Be Proud Of Your Choices Because Those Are The Things That You Are Acting On’

Jeff Bezos

Sometimes I find myself stroking my ego, marveling at how smart I am and patting myself on the back for coming up with the profoundness of my words. However, those thoughts are gift bestowed to me by God, cultivated in an environment of supportive parents, family and friends, a good education system, and a peaceful country that gives me the space to think and the liberty to have opinions.

I strongly believe that if others had the same, they would also have these same thoughts and probably have even “better” thoughts than me. Actually, all of us have this gift from God innately in us (Fitra (فطرة)) the problem is that it gets clouded and we get deviated from that path by our environment.

So my cockiness very quickly turns into gratitude that I am able to stay true and close to my innate disposition.

The Dangers of Hubris

My dad and my uncle told me that one of my problems is my ego. I feel conflicted about this. I feel like they are right and wrong. I feel like I can’t have a big ego because I am constantly looking for dissenting opinions. I love when people correct me and I don’t get offended when people give me critical feedback. I feel like they are doing me a favor. Most people don’t do this. I tell myself if anything, other people have a big ego because they get offended when they get told ways they can be better. 

However, then I realize they are right because I often do things for the sole purpose of people telling me how smart I am. Even me writing this blog can be a way of feeding my ego because people may tell me how self-aware and well-spoken I am. In fact, many of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life such as sharing personal information too soon or getting fired from Safe or quitting Wealthsimple were partially a result of me seeking to show people how smart I am too soon.

My grandma was talking about someone and said, “he is smart, but he’s not wise”. I think this can be used to describe me in some ways. I often feel like I don’t achieve the things I know I am capable of. Or when I achieve it I throw it away. The reason is my hubris. I want a quicker path to validation, I feel like I am better than my current position. Well actually, the deeper reason is I usually quit things if I no longer realize the purpose or I feel like the thing I’m doing is not serving my life purpose. However, there are some instances where my mistake was due to my hubris.

There’s a scene from Icahn: The Restless Billionaire (5:10), where he displays a painting in his office by Ernest Meissonier of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Friedland “before Hubris took over and took it all away from him”. Icahn continues, “He was a great strategist, no question. But then he lost it all because of arrogance. And that’s one thing you have to remember. It doesn’t stay forever if you’re not careful”.

I think about that scene a lot. Especially because I believe that the more humble I am, the more God will bless me. However, the great paradox of life is that the more God blesses me, the more reason I will have to be pridfeul. I must remain humble, especially when I have a reason to be prideful. All praise must be due to the most high God.

Sometimes I find myself getting a new revelation or insight on how I should live my life better. I want to run to tell others the same thing. I think my intent is 90% pure because I want to help, but 10% of my intent is to get acclaim from others.

However, God has given me the revelation that I should remain humble, and implement the advice and if it works, I don’t need to go out and tell others to listen to what I have to say, people will come to me.

My friend was telling me recently that he’s doing the 75-hard challenge to get more discipline. I was lamenting about how I think that the best way to get more discipline is to start by praying five times a day. My rationale is that if you can do that first, then other things will come easy. He said, “Instead of you telling people that, why don’t you make a million dollars first, you just got fired from a job.” Some people may feel like that is harsh, but he was being honest and I really appreciate it because he’s right.

I’m still figuring out my life. There are a lot of things I’m learning the hard way and I want to share them with others so I can save them time and pain. There are things that I want to do for sincere and noble reasons but will inevitably lead to people feeding my ego if I’m successful.

The hard part is finding that balance because a lot of the things that I do to genuinely help other people are things that will also feed my ego. So how do I keep that balance?

Well, the answer is already in the Scripture: And seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble— Al-Baqarah 2:45