201408-stuff-learntOnce every four years I’ll get wrapped up in the fever, scream and jeer like the best of them because, well, futbol. This year was no different and if anything all the more intense and exciting: Spain defeated! America defying expectations! Costa Rican underdogs! And, of course, the Brazilian massacre! At the final leg of the journey I found myself amidst a sea of blue and white, a rebel, a naysayer amongst believers yelling ‘Goooo Diiieee Mannschaft!!!!!’ Rooting for Germany and cheering in German? Two situations I did not expect to find myself in.

On the journey towards victory I found myself being asked the same question over and over, and repeating the same answer, at first hesitantly, then very self-righteously: “Why are you rooting for Germany?” Because they deserve to win!” I’ll admit, who am I to declare who deserves the ultimate sporting trophy or not? But something about those meticulous, machine-like Germans not only won me over but also spurned the kind of defiance one expects from a true patriot, or die-hard football fan, of which I am, without a doubt, neither.

This is not about football, at least not directly. Sure the German team played some fantastic football, and few would argue with the fact that overall they were the best team on the Brazilian fields. Yes, they won my vote with their skill, but above all, their humility. That a team, not just a player/players or their representative leadership, but an entire team can display such graciousness amidst some of the most astounding World Cup moments by purely focusing on the game, not their egos, truly resonated with me.

You don’t realize how rare this is until you take a second to question what humility means to you and how you have and do experience it on a regular basis. Or, perhaps ask yourself this: how easy do you find it to be humble?

We’re all aware of the virtue of humility; like patience, gratitude or courage, we understand the concept as one of the many things we should aspire to achieve or effortless be. But humility is a tricky little virtue, easily misconstrued and even easier to fake, often disregarded and sometimes bearing so few tangible rewards one may find themselves wondering ‘what’s the point?’

I used to believe that humility was the opposite of pride. A prideful person boasts, sings one’s positive attributes loudly and abrasively. Pride, as we’re taught in Sunday school, is a prequel to destruction and sin, an abhorrent trait worthy of disgust. On the other hand a humble person deflects praise, doesn’t speak of virtues, puts others first and foremost before oneself, period.

So I, like many young adults would be trigger-happy when deflecting praise, ignoring compliments and carefully storing my needs and desires away in the corner, because that’s what being humble meant. And, especially as a young woman, being humble wasn’t simply something to aspire to, it almost seemed like a requirement, an unspoken expectation that a good, fine lady is, by nature, humble, even to the point of servitude, and by being so becomes graceful, and hence attractive.

In actual fact I wasn’t being humble. I certainly wasn’t being prideful, so at least that’s good news. But shunning one’s needs, diffusing praise and acting out of servitude? That’s called false humility and it goes hand in hand with insecurity.

You may have met that charming individual, the one who prides him/her self on aiming to please, is all too quick to throw out self-deprecating references, whose singular focus claims to be on others, but is really on other’s perception of him or herself. While chuckling at yet another excessively modest joke we may think ‘oh boy, what a humble person!’ Alas, no. What an insecure person.

Because being humble is not about thinking less of oneself, it’s about having a balanced view of oneself, an honest and thorough understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses, and one’s role and position in the wider community and society. It’s about being self-aware, but other-focused; self-serving and self-sacrificing; respectful and self-respecting. Acknowledgment, as opposed to comparison.

But don’t the humble get trampled upon, manipulated and victimized? How can the humble survive in a world where puffing up one’s feathers, faking it until you make it and down and dirty hustling seems like a pre-requisite for survival, let alone success?

Let’s circle back to those Germans now, shall we? Rather than focus on select superstars, of whom they had their fair share, Joachim Low, their team manager, created a strong unit based on coherent team play, instead of individual, ego-based spurts of action. Joachim even went as far as to swap out experienced stars for newcomers, giving everyone a fair shot at earning their colors, showing their pride and being part of the magic.

The true signs of humility occur after the spotlight fades, behind closed doors, when there is no one to bear witness and all is said and done. Or when the option of being prideful would be entirely justified. Case in point, during Germany’s shocking 7-1 dismantling of Brazil in the semifinal, many Germans cheered Brazil’s meaningless 90th-minute goal.

After the defeat one could see German arms around slumped Brazilian shoulders, the players talked about how unexpected the game went, they acknowledged the pressure the host team was under, they gave them a touching thanks and praised Brazil as “the country of football.” They didn’t have to do any of this, and the rest of us would certainly understand if they were too busy celebrating to even care about the poor Brazilians. But they did, and I loved them all the more for it.

And hence they, in my ‘humble’ opinion, deserved to win. And they did. In doing so offered the world a thrilling, heart-stopping lesson…on humility.
Published in August 2014