The Virtue of Humility
The essence of humility is knowing who we are in the spiritual order of things. There is a God, and we are not it. We are by nature imperfect. That we are drunks and powerless over alcohol is but a symptom.
Humility brings us to admit our condition in Step 1 and, setting pride aside, to belief in a Power who can render us whole in Step 2. With Step 3 we come to a humble acknowledgement of our total dependence on this Power, to whom we surrender completely.
In Steps 4 through 10 we effectuate this surrender and grow in humility as we take stock of specific imperfections of character and emotion, admit to them, ask for their removal, and make amends.
In Step 11 we approach the highest form of humility as we develop “a full willingness, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.” In Step 12 we seek to “walk humbly under the grace of God” with each and every step we take.
[Image: Henrietta B. Seiberling, Akron Oxford Group member who introduced Bill W. to Dr. Bob at her home, The Gate Lodge, Mother's Day, May 12, 1935.]
"We first reach for a little humility, knowing that we shall perish of alcoholism if we do not. After a time, though we may still rebel somewhat, we commence to practice humility because this is the right thing to do. Then comes the day when, finally freed in large degree from rebellion, we practice humility because we deeply want it as a way of life." – Bill W.
“"[T]hey only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they had told someone else all their life story.” – Big Book
“The attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all AA’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.”
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
– Proverbs 11:2
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” – James 3:13
“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” – C.S. Lewis
“Humility is not self-abasement. It is the capacity to regard oneself in the company of others as one, but not more than one.” – Huston Smith
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, ‘He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.’” – Epictetus
“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.” – Albert Einstein
“We can do it the easy way, which is to humble ourselves, or we can do it the hard way, which is to be humiliated.” – Unknown
"Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues." – Augustine
“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”
– Michel de Montaigne
“St. Bernard, asked to list the four cardinal virtues, answered: ‘Humility, humility, humility, and humility.’” – Peter Kreeft
“The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness.” – Dalai Lama XIV
“Lord, keep me humble, but don’t tell me you’re doing it, because I’m liable to brag about it.” – Unknown
“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others.” – Lao Tzu
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The houses are all gone under the sea.
The dancers are all gone under the hill.” – T.S. Eliot
“It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” – Andrew J. Holmes
“Drop the idea that you are Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders. The world would go on even without you. Don't take yourself so seriously. ”
– Norman Vincent Peale
“It wasn't until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say ‘I don't know.’"
– W. Somerset Maugham
“[To] know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” – Flannery O’Connor
“A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.” – Father Strickland
“Plenty of people wish to become devout, but no one wishes to be humble.”
– La Rochefoucauld
“After crosses and losses men grow humbler and wiser.” – Benjamin Franklin
“If you are right, take the humble side—you will help the other fellow. If you are wrong, take the humble side—and you will help yourself.” – Unknown
“Humility makes us free of—or allows us to tamp down—prideful self-sufficiency that might make us reluctant to seek help from others.” – W. Jay Wood, “Prudence,” Virtues and Their Vices
“Time and again I approached the 7th Step, only to fall back and regroup. Something was missing and the impact of the Step escaped me. What had I overlooked? A single word: read but ignored, the foundation of all the Steps, indeed the entire Alcoholics Anonymous program—that word is ‘humbly.’”
– AA’s Daily Reflections
"Not until you have failed can you learn true humility." – Twenty-Four Hours a Day
“The word ‘humbly’ was one I never understood. It used to seem servile. Today it means seeing myself in true relation to my fellowman and to God.” – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
“Humility will help us see ourselves in true perspective and keep our minds open to the truth.” – A-Anon’s Courage to Change
"If I need help, I will ask for it. I will put humility into action in my life." – Just for Today: Daily Reflections for Recovering Addicts
"At the heart of each and every Step in the program, and of all the Traditions in the Fellowship, lies this virtue of humility. Working through surrender, the touchstone of the disciplines, humility leads the way to a spiritual awakening and a right relationship with God and our fellows." – PTP
"Humility acknowledges the center belongs to God, and selves exist to serve him and one another for the love of him. From that place proceed all the virtues and through them all the good and healthy emotions." – PTP
For more PTP passages on humility, see, among others, pp. 181–187: "Humility and Humiliation," and "A Humble Admission." For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on www.164andmore.com and search humility and its variations. See also entries in As Bill Sees It.
- “Understanding Humility,” meditation for 11/06 in Just for Today: Daily Reflections for Recovering Addicts
- “Displaying Moral Irony: The Virtue of Humility,” chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue, by James S. Spiegel
- “Humility,” chapter by Andrew Pinsent in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett, Editors
- “Pride and Humility: Tempering the Desire for Excellence,” by Craig A. Boyd, chapter in Virtues & Their Vices, Kevin Timpe & Craig A. Boyd, Editors
For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.