Sunday, July 5, 2009

Humility and conflict

For most of my life I have struggled with the meaning being humble. Then I learned that the opposite of humility is a sense of entitlement. That discovery clarified my understanding of humility.

Recently I learned from a colleague who works in the field of restorative justice that a source of conflict is a sense of entitlement. Upon hearing that, my mind clicked. Of course, when I have a sense of entitlement, the result often is conflict - conflict between my expectations and yours.

So the lesson for me is to work at taking a position of humility. As an American, who grew up as a privileged White male, this is a difficult position to take. However, the peace this stance creates within myself and with others is well worth the difficulty.


  1. Humility can be misapplied as well, Tom. We are entitled to be viewed by others as valuable, cared for, as well as worthy of protection from harm. These are foundations for respectful engagements. In the most basic sense it is a matter of face.

    I often hear about the importance of humbling oneself in the face of traumatic event. I've come to believe that this is initial survival wisdom not to strike back and in doing so to escalate a situation so that it becomes a problem for those around us. It is wise to keep our head about a situation and remove to a safer space where facts can be separated and cool-headed thinking takes back over.

    Bulling personalities love to work with people they can strategically move into humility's stance. They also like the control of moving people to being out of control. Our culture plays to excessive shaming in order to make gains. This is what we have been fighting with the zero tolerance movement in schools as well as the national shaming that public school teachers have received over the last decades.

    Naturally we can become arrogant and distance ourselves from people who are enraged or believe that we have some obligation to them because they are on the attack. Humility's strength is listening which gives space to venting. Some it for legitimate reasons and some of it coming from forces outside of the situation of conflict itself. But it divides people into camps of 'us' and 'them'...this does not bode well for good processing.

    The capacity for restorative justice facilitator to walk this fire with others and create a relatively safe space for its expression is essential. I know I'm still working on this in a culture that does not remember how to do this. Talk about walking a razor's edge especially given all the litigation and misrepresentations of 'facts'...yet we can relearn that we are entitled to be viewed by others as valuable, cared for, as well as worthy of protection from harm.

  2. Christa, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I learned more about humility while working with Maori in New Zealand than I ever learned while living in America.