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Humility and Friendship

Howard, a buddy of mine since high school, told me about his friend, Marvin. He explained Marvin’s popularity in the following way. “When he is asked his opinion about something, he will give it but will always follow it with a disclaimer–‘Heck, I don’t really know. I’m just guessing.'”

It is Howard’s opinion that because Marvin never risks offending anyone by having a strong opinion he is popular. While I agree with Howard’s explanation of Marvin’s popularity, I’m not sure Marvin’s approach is in his own best interest. Discounting one’s own opinions on a regular basis does, I believe, take its toll. I believe one can have an opinion without offending others. However, Marvin’s approach sure beats the other, argumentative end of the opinion continuum-i.e., “You’re wrong and I’ll tell you why.”

I personally find the combination of humility and humor to be attractive. It does not surprise me that funny, self deprecating people are usually popular and do not want for friends. For example, Woody Alan’s film comedy protagonists are usually fellows who have little self esteem and are quick to admit it. However, they couple their humility with ironic wit and insight and thus we find them appealing, entertaining and non-threatening.

My friend Manny, a talented composer and conductor, is genuinely humble and also very funny. One evening my wife and I were watching PBS talk show host Charlie Rose interview Riccardo Muti, the talented and articulate Italian conductor. During the course of the interview Muti was asked what it was like conducting Mozart compositions. He responded enthusiastically and said something to the effect, “When I conduct Mozart’s compositions it is as though I and the orchestra are floating in the cosmos hand-in-hand with God.” 

A short time later, while chatting with Manny on the phone, I brought up the Muti interview and quoted his description of how he felt when conducting Mozart. I then asked Manny, “Do you have a similar kind of experience when you conduct Mozart?” Manny paused, then said, “Nahh…we just fly around the neighborhood a little.”  I still laugh when I replay Manny’s answer.

On another occasion, I asked Manny, after he had conducted a retirement city’s community orchestra, how the concert had gone. He said, “Great—when we finished there wasn’t a dry seat in the house.”

As much as I admire genuinely humble folks, I strongly dislike false humility. When I read an interview by some famous athlete who brags about himself on a regular basis but then, when interviewed says, “My mother taught me to always be humble,” I think of the following quote: “Humility is like underwear, essential, but indecent if it shows.” 

In this vein, a related quote-“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”-reminds me of the story about the famous Italian tenor. On his first date with a lady he talked about himself non-stop for two hours and finally, with a big magnanimous smile, leaned forward and said to her, “Well, that’s enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about my new CD?”

One great advantage of being genuinely humble is that it keeps one’s mind open and allows one to clean up and heal those mistakes and hurts which inevitably occur between friends. There is great truth to the saying, “Humility leads to strength and not to weakness. It is the highest form of self-respect to admit mistakes and to make amends for them.”

Following are a number of quotes about humility which I have found to be either amusing and/or thought provoking.

“If you would have people speak well of you, then do not speak well of yourself.”

“We’d like to be humble but what if no one notices?”

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

“I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty … But I am too busy thinking about myself.”

Bob Hope to President Kennedy when being presented with a gold medal for services to his country: “I feel very humble but I think I have the strength of character to fight it.”

“The proud man can learn humility, but he will be proud of it.”

“To be humble to our superiors is duty; to our equals, courtesy; to our inferiors, generosity.”

“Flattery is all right so long as you don’t inhale.”

“Nobody stands taller than those willing to stand corrected.”

“Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change; where we are right, make us easy to live with.”

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.   


Comment from Misty
Time: April 12, 2009, 12:54 pm

As usual, you are on the money……way more than 2 cents….more like a silver dollar…

Comment from Jim
Time: April 13, 2009, 1:35 pm

A great bit of writing about a crucial element of maintaining friendships, family relationships, and marriages and love affairs!

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