Humility in egonomics

Humility is intelligent self-respect that keeps us from thinking too much or too little of ourselves. It reminds us how far we have come while at the same time helping us see how far short we are of what we can be.

Humility has three unique properties:

  1. we, then me (devotion to progress)
  2. i’m brilliant, and i’m not (duality)
  3. one more thing (constructive discontent)

Devotion to progress. Sometimes, we need to put others before ourselves. Ironically, it all pans out and by helping others we end up helping ourselves. There is this parable (or anecdote or whatever it’s called) about how weak a single stick is — how it can easily be snapped into two. But bunch them up together, and you can’t break them anymore. I may be going out of context but the main point is (as I’ve also picked up from the Bride Wars) that sometimes it’s not always about you. And just like what Peter Parker told Harry, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.”

Duality. The next property of humility is duality. Just as we may acknowledge our strengths, it is also important to acknowledge our weaknesses. By doing so, we counter the dangers of comparison since we don’t delude ourselves of our greatness; we are kept grounded. We also counter the dangers of seeking acceptance since duality makes us comfortable with the idea that we can both be liked and disliked. We counter showcasing since we are not always as brilliant as we would like to think. We counter defensiveness since we accept that we can be wrong just as we can be right.

Constructive Discontent. This is dissatisfaction with satisfaction. This makes us less resistant to the constant called change. Here we acknowledge even though there may be some that claim that we’re on the top of our game, we can still improve and we can still learn. This drives us to want to improve.


When we feel threatened, in the space between two normal beats of our heart, our response to threat becomes physiological. Dr John Gottman calls this escalation of emotion “diffuse physiological arousal” (DPA).

DPA plays with our senses — we can’t hear all that is being said, we get tunnel vision, we can’t think as clearly. If depicted in a movie, this is the part in slow motion with someone shouting with an incongruent slur or you’d see mouths moving but don’t actually hear the message. At this point, humility is crucial in preventing DPA from getting the better of us. It is the “surge protector” that helps us from taking a debate personally.

When things get intense in a debate, we can
(a) let DPA win, thereby reducing the chances of a meaningful discussion, or
(b) exit DPA when it’s triggered and move towards EPA (elevated physiological arousal)

With the latter, we try to salvage the situation by attempting to open minds which may have started to close. We try to get into neutral grounds and try to get to a point of discussion which is “engaged, enthusiastic, eager, effective, excited, encouraged.”

One other way to keep a debate healthy is to maintain unconditional positive regard (UPR). Admittedly, UPR is easier said than done. UPR suspends judgment to allow for an open, honest exchange of ideas. UPR helps assure people that even though we are engaged in a debate, the line is drawn there. We are only there to challenge their ideas and NOT their identity. We can then shift the focus from the innate need to protect one’s identity to the actual exchange of ideas.

So that’s my stuff/notes on humility.

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