JD Martin


The Humblebrag vs. True Humility

“I just did something very selfless. But more importantly, it was genuine & I know it means a lot to the person in the longrun #soworthit”

If you’re like most people, you might be scratching your head after reading the above statement. Unfortunately, as self-congratulatory as it sounds, that’s a real quote from a twitter post. 

Fortunately, thanks to hilarious storytellers in the golden age of television, we even have a word coined for what you just read – in fact, the person who posted that message literally gave us the definition of a “humblebrag.” 

Have you ever committed a humblebrag?

Humblebrags gained widespread popularity across Twitter when Harris Wittels, a writer on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, coined the phrase to describe a brag clumsily couched in falsely humble phraseology.

False Humility

Since Wittles started the Twitter account, which he uses to post examples of humblebrags, he’s gained almost 200,000 followers (His Twitter profile photo? A woman giving herself a gratuitous pat on the back).

“I think bragging sucks, don’t get me wrong, but I get it,” Wittels told the Wall Street Journal. “What I hate about a humblebrag is that people try to come off like they aren’t bragging. It’s people not being honest about their intention. Just tell us you are at an exclusive party. Don’t hide it behind a complaint about your dress not fitting.”

Humblebrags present an interesting question: What is true humility? Is it genuinely thinking less of yourself? Is it trying to sound less prideful than you actually are? Or is it something else—something deeper?

True Humility

True humility isn’t about lowering yourself for the sake of keeping up appearances simply because it’s impolite to brag—but to do so for the sake of serving others. “Humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself,” as the British writer C.S. Lewis once put it, “but thinking of yourself less.”

The existence of humblebrags underscores the idea that our pride has a way of leaking out, despite our efforts to disguise it in seemingly humble language. It also illustrates the chasm between authentic humility and faux humility.

The dictionary defines humility as having a “low view of one’s own importance.” But humilitas, the Latin root of the word, means “to lower yourself,” as Macquarie University Professor John Dickson notes in his excellent book Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love and Leadership. As he explores the origins of humility—which he says was first used in Roman culture during the second and fifth centuries AD—he defines it as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” Dickson’s definition of humility goes miles deeper than our culture’s comparatively crude use of the world.

True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s not being outwardly humble, while harboring pride. And it’s not being weak. True humility is service to others, service to a cause greater than your own personal ambition.

Question: How would you define humility? What does it look like in your everyday life, or the lives of others? Leave a comment below.

This was originally posted by GiANT Worldwide and I wanted to share it here as well. If you’re interested in learning more about how humility (and pride) affect your leadership, I’m happy to schedule a meeting to discuss. Just click the contact button and let me know!

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