I call my oldest sister almost every day. She is eight years older than me, a psychologist, and everything that I am not: calm, rational, selfless, and patient. So as my life is unfolding before me and I struggle to keep all of the metaphorical balls of life up in the air, I go to her for words of wisdom and encouragement.
I often ask her what she do would if she were in whatever my situation-of-the-week is. I ask because I want to know. I ask because I want to be more like her. I ask because I don’t trust my own impulsive, emotional, and sometimes dramatic thinking. I can always count on her for an honest and thoughtful answer to the questions that surround my personal dilemmas.
Sometimes, she says, “I think you already know the answer.” Other times, she will encourage me to check the intentions of my behaviors. She is, conversation by conversation, teaching me how to be a better person. She is teaching me how to practice the qualities of patience and thoughtfulness. She is showing me how to be more cautious and deliberate in my decision-making and my actions. She answers the phone every day, she listens, she gives advice, and she never questions what’s in it for her.
At the top of the list of qualities that she has that I want? Humility. Every day when I hang up the phone, I think, “Wow, I should have asked her more about her life.” I then wonder if she feels used and unappreciated because our conversations are always centered around my life.
The truth is, humility doesn’t come easily to me. One of my favorite definitions of humility (by C.S. Lewis) and the one that fits my sister best is, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The more I am surrounded by humility, the more aware I become of my own lack of it.
I want to be more like Christine, but for me, it takes work. Wanting to change and actually changing are two different things. And so, I have outlined some simple steps to help me practice thinking of my own immediate needs less, and those of others more. I can be of service and help to others, just as my sister has been to me every day for so many years.
Here are just a few of the things I have made a conscious decision to do to practice humility:
1. I pick up trash.
I challenge myself to pick up every piece of crumpled paper or any old napkin that I notice on the ground. When I’m at work and I see a piece of paper on the ground, or perhaps a random thumbtack, I tell myself that it’s my duty to pick it up. If I am on the soccer field watching my kids play and I see empty water bottles laying on the grass, I bend over and throw them away. Sounds simple, but in all honesty, it has not been as easy as it sounds. I am often tempted to keep walking, and when I do that, I feel a tinge of guilt and think, “How hard would it have been to have picked up that piece of trash?” When I succeed and I pick it up, I feel good about myself and also know that it was done for the good of the community: a small step toward humility motivated by a desire to do for others and to keep my own needs in perspective — which, as an added bonus, also feels good to me.
2. I give a compliment.
When I find myself consumed by jealousy, I try to turn that jealousy into something positive. When the thoughts start — “I wish I had her figure. Must be nice to have a brand new car and a Caribbean vacation with your family” — I realize that I am hyper-focused on myself. In an effort to turn a negative into a positive, I try turn my jealousy into a compliment about the other person, because, as I am learning, it’s not always about me. I will say to the beautifully sculpted woman whose figure I admire, “Wow, you look great — have you been working out?” To the family departing on their amazing vacation, I say, “You guys deserve it. What a great experience for your family!” To my surprise, offering a compliment takes away my jealousy and makes me feel just a little more right-sized.
3. I surprise a stranger.
When the opportunity arises to somehow surprise a stranger and brighten someone else’s day with a random act of kindness, I seize it. Sometimes I will pay for the order of the person behind me at the drive-thru, or sometimes I will let someone cut in front of me in traffic, fighting back my budding complaints and road rage. I try to be aware that other people could be having a bad day or fighting demons I know nothing about. If nothing else, it takes my mind off myself and challenges me to think of others first.
On my best days, I do these things well, but not perfectly. On my worst days, I struggle to show even a little humility. With practice, however, I’m slowly learning. Every time I hang up the phone with my sister, I think to myself, “Next time, I’m going to ask her how she’s doing first and then listen.” Most times, I fail. But all I can do is keep trying, thank her for her selfless and consistent support, and remain teachable each day. I’m so grateful to have a model of humility in my life who picks up the phone every day with a friendly “hello” and the willingness to listen.
One day, perhaps, I can be the person on the other end of the phone for someone else. In the meantime, I will keep picking up other people’s garbage.
This post was originally written by Suzanne Hayes.