Op-Ed: Finding a Balance with Humility

Will Shares a Lesson from Aristotle


Will Curry, Op-Ed Writer

Oftentimes, the people of the distant past will seem almost alien, completely different from our image of the modern human. Their cultures seem so dissimilar from ours that it is easy to forget that human beings have always been human beings. While the specifics may have been a little different, ancient people dealt with the exact same personal and societal issues that we deal with today. Thus, there can be much to learn from looking backward, especially towards the great thinkers of the past. Aristotle, an Ancient Greek philosopher, was one of these great thinkers. He philosophized and wrote on countless topics that are still relevant today, but what particularly stood out to me while studying his work were his thoughts on humility.

He believed that in order to be a “high-minded man,” someone who is virtuous and intellectual, must know their worth, and act accordingly. He wrote that “he who claims much without deserving it is a fool,” which speaks against those who are arrogant and not humble, but he also speaks against those who are too humble, writing that “he who claims less than he deserves is little-minded.” At first, it may seem impossible to take humility too far, as virtues such as humility are seen as positive qualities that one should always strive to have more of. Too much of a good thing, however, can quickly turn negative.

When I first received my ACT scores, I was overjoyed. A 35/36 was a very happy surprise, and the first thing I wanted to do was share this impressive feat with my peers. As it turns out, this was not a great idea. I was met with many rolled eyes and quite a bit of annoyance, with my peers believing a score like this should have been expected for me, and that I was simply rubbing it in their faces.

At first, I figured that I had simply not been humble enough, and my classmates were reacting in accordance to my arrogance. I decided that this was not the case, however, when I returned home from school and decided to share my scores with my closest friends over text. I was hopeful for a positive reaction, but considering the result from earlier in the day, I was not expecting one.

When I sent the message, however, they congratulated me, with texts such as “CONGRATS!!!” and “wait that’s actually insane.” They were happy for my sake, and it felt as if they had somehow shared in my pride with me.

That was the day when I first began to doubt just how important humility truly was to spreading positivity and being a virtuous person.

It is natural for human beings to wish to share achievements and accomplishments with their peers- if it wasn’t, bragging wouldn’t be something we would ever

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have to “refrain” from. I did not speak about my scores with my classmates with the intention of mocking anyone, but it was interpreted that way, due to my perceived lack of humility. This created an echo chamber of negativity, where my peers felt insulted, and I felt as if my achievement had been belittled. This negativity simply would not have been present without the excessive amount of value that is placed upon humility.

An example of a situation that was allowed to be positive because of the casting aside of humility is the release of the cast list. Anyone who has performed in theater is likely very familiar with the drama that almost always surrounds the release of the this list. When I auditioned for the musical Matilda, I wanted a specific role, Miss Trunchbull. Miss Trunchbull is a female character who is usually played by men to emphasize how ugly and mean she is, and she is a very fun character to portray.

Unfortunately, a friend of mine received that role instead. They were proud of it, and spoke to me about how happy they were. I was upset that I did not get the role and could have easily chosen to chastise my friend for not being humble enough, but instead, I chose to ignore the concept of humility altogether. This allowed me to openly and truly feel happy for my friend, and I was able to tell them that they were going to do great. We exchanged compliments, and each of us shared things we believed to be great about the other.

If my friend had chosen to express excessive humility and not speak to me about their excitement, we would never have had that positive experience. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the positive experience would also never have happened if my friend or I had taken a lack of humility too far, and been arrogant and insulting.

We did not know it at the time, but that entire situation was a practical application of the teachings of Aristotle. Insufficient and excessive humility are both negatives-in order to be truly virtuous and positive, one must strike a balance.