If I bear witness to myself my testimony is not true; there is another who bears witness to me and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true.
Humility is a curious virtue because the real thing never looks humble. Putting yourself down, self-consciously letting others dominate, seeking humiliation, may all earn you the approval of others - usually the hypocritically inclined religious types. Those who are always playing a game and don’t know what real life is.
True humility is unusually self-confident. It can be assertive when needed and it risks, almost invites misinterpretation.
The humble, like Jesus, are those who know who they are, where they have come and where they are going. Self-knowledge of this kind make is easier to accept rejection because you have nothing to lose. You are not hiding behind the mask of your persona. If you are not controlled by the way others see you, you have the freedom of real solitude.
Yet in that solitude of self-knowledge and humility you are not alone. ‘There is another’, as Jesus said. From this otherness which is our deepest intimacy arises the affirmation we need – the testimony that is true.
To be humble we must first transcend the ego. Affirming yourself without another (bearing witness to yourself) is inherently untrue, inauthentic. You will always be looking for recognition of your martyrdom. You will demand a feats day for it. But we can only know ourselves because we know we are known. Knowledge of this kind also means the experience of acceptance. Someone has to know the games our ego plays and not be deterred by them. Love is this.
You may be prepared to drive down a one-way street in the opposite direction if it is really necessary. You might even get a kind of kick out of it. You against the world. But it will always feel the wrong way as well as potentially dangerous. If you meet a car coming the other way you will be in immediate conflict. Self-knowledge (the psychological term for humility) requires a two-way traffic.
The self is a channel of communion realised in truthful communication. It is not enough to give things, even time, even your life. To love, to be a friend, to be fully alive means to give your self. Only those who know themselves, and know they are known can do this.
Laurence Freeman OSB