Humility is a virtue
Posted on March 19th, 2014
The best professors I studied with, in both social and hard sciences, had jaw-dropping educations, were published in the most prestigious of university houses, and could argue rings around anyone in their fields if they wanted. (Certainly they could have taught at more prestigious universities.)
They didn’t. They were kind and patient with students, no matter how idiotic the questions (and yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a stupid question). These professors cared about teaching, about getting all their students from confusion to understanding.
They were humble.
And Zeus knows the world needs more humility.
I was recently directed at some vicious screeds online, written by academics in the social sciences, who use education as shield and battering ram to shut down criticism.
Human pro tip: if your response to a comment or critique is “I have more education than you do” (generally with expletives), well, you’re not doing it correctly.
Bonus human pro tip: if you’re having to deal with someone like this in your life, professional or personal–although why you’d put up with a bully in your personal life I have no idea–you might be interested in reading The No Asshole Rule.
Humility in our culture is a vanishing virtue. The professors I’ve recalled fondly in this piece are all close to retirement.
But whom do you respect more, the person who insists you call him by name, who has never mentioned the books or dozens of journal publications he’s authored, or the swaggering windbag who wants you to call him “doctor” for a PhD in a social science?
Professional women in traditionally male fields struggle against real prejudices. We tend not to brag about our accomplishments because it’s too brash, too unfeminine, too distasteful. But yet we’re told we need to act more like men.
I don’t buy that. I don’t think the problem is with us–but with the male braggadocio that pervades society.
For whatever it’s worth, then, here’s my humble plea to bring humility back as a virtue worth cultivating. You don’t have to build a shrine to Aidos in your office, but if you ever find yourself wanting to use the initials after your name to shout someone down…consider professional help.