Humility & Empathy

A few months ago I wrote about a set of core values that I believe are essential as a starting point for change. One of these values was humility. Following much criticism and some misunderstanding of this term I followed up with a second post to talk more about my concept of humility.

Nevertheless, the opposition was strong, and resulted in many counter-tweets, and counter-posts, including The Joy of Arrogance by Liz Keogh and The Futility of Humility by Darren Hobbs.

On reflection I began to think that Humility was too tough a concept to present as a core value. Darren Hobbs points out the paradox that claiming humility for oneself is an act of arrogance. Humility may be too abstract a concept to be strived for, but perhaps it can emerge out of some other value, some other way of being that is more concrete.

Perhaps empathy. I had been wondering about empathy, and where it fit into the values, principles, and practices I offered as a foundation for transformation. I consider empathy a vital part of effective communication, but had considered it an implementation of humility and listening—a behavior rather than a value.

And then I read John Wegner’s excellent article, Beyond Empathy, and saw it differently. Empathy was the value, the way of being we need to seek. To do so requires humility, for sure, but on the flip side, humility will grow from the state of being empathic. We walk in another’s shoes, we see what they see, and feel what they feel—or at least, we strive to. Our view of self must change through this action, our vision becomes wider, our hearts more loving. This is humility, and it can’t be faked.

The raw term humility, with its history of being a tool of religious oppression seems to cause an equal amount of distress as it causes engagement. This is not what I seek. Empathy, on the other hand, is likely a value most people can embrace, and pursue.

Thus, I recast that set of core values as:

  1. Courage — seek your edge; speak from your heart
  2. Trust — lead from a place of faith, not suspicion; follow likewise
  3. Empathy — seek to understand; show affection, passion, partiality; blur the line between self and other
  4. Congruency — act with integrity, so your actions and your feelings are always in alignment
  5. Service — be alert to the needs of others; ask for and offer help in equal proportion, for service is in the receiving as much as in the giving

It’s important to note that there is nothing fixed about the values, principles, and practices I outline on this blog. Clearly they are open to change and refinement. As I put these ideas into practice, expect more changes—or make your own. Everything on this blog is completely open source, with no licences and no restrictions. Use what you like, as you like. References to this blog appreciated, when appropriate.