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Essay Modesty (Engels)

Part 1 of this essay provides a brief introduction to virtues.
Part 2 deals with the strong side ‘humility/modesty,’ with the parts ‘definition and history’ and ‘characteristics humility/modesty,’ respectively.
Part 3 deals with ‘corresponding vices’, with the parts ‘general’, ‘narcissism’ and ‘deadly vices’.
Part 4 deals with the development of modesty, with ‘longer-term approach’, ‘Taylor’ and ‘short-term actions’ as subdivisions.

Finally, there is a ‘database’ containing references and background material

This essay provides background information for ‘Adventure Modesty’ and Challenge Modesty’ which are under the heading ’training’ on this website. In ‘Challenge Modesty,’ this essay appears as an Annex.



    Part 1. Virtues                                                                   

   Part 2. Humility and modesty                                                                  

                                2.1. History                                                                       

                               2.2. Characteristics of humility/modesty                   

    Part 3. Corresponding vices                                                       

                              3.1 . General                                                                     

                              3.2 . Narcissism                                                            

                              3.3 . Deadly vices (Gabrielle Taylor)                             

    Part 4. Developing modesty                                                        

                               4.1.  Longer-term approach                                            

                               4.2. Taylor                                                                           

                                4.3. Short-term actions                                                   


                                   Part 1. Virtues

Values are meaningful, usually positive, intangibles that are considered important by individuals, groups or communities. There are a large number of values, variable in number because they involve subjective perceptions. In the book “Moral Courage,” the author noted that the following five core values apply worldwide: honesty, respect, justice, responsibility and compassion (Kidder, p.10)

Norms are guidelines and have great objectivity. They are rules of behavior that we usually take for granted. Norms are derived from values and usually constitute prohibitions. In other words, values can be set as a norm.

Virtues are positive connections between values and norms. Virtue is an attitude in which a value has become concrete and can lead to an ethically good way of acting.

Virtues are character traits in which one excels. Virtuous behavior is a disinterested orientation toward the good and virtue is its own reward. Virtues are not innate but are good attitudes and habits, become second nature, thanks to constant practice. Virtue ethics is an ethics of education, self-actualization and art of living, in which example plays a central role. Virtues are positive connections between values and norms. The core of virtue lies in good will. Virtue ethics tries to shape our passions so that we naturally want the good, as it were, and pursue it to perfect our person.

There are more definitions of virtues. According to MacIntyre, renowned virtue expert, Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, the New Testament and medieval thinkers present different and incompatible lists of virtues; they also give them a different order of importance and they have different, irreconcilable theories of virtue. Virtues have had variable meanings across systems and over time, there is overlap due to abstraction, and some purported virtues are good habits rather than virtues.

There have been multiple lists of virtues and vices over time. The best-known classification of Western virtues are the four classical virtues of ancient Greece, courage, temperance, justice and wisdom. To these, medieval Christian thinkers added the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. Today there are several series of virtues, one as many as fifty “angels of your soul” long.

The Big Five is a well-known way of mapping our personality. It describes personality in terms of five clusters of personality traits, also called dimensions. Modesty, under that theory, is one of six facets under the kindness dimension.

American positive psychologists Seligman and Peterson were the first to establish, early in this century, a scientific classification of virtues (Values in Action, VIA; see their Character Strengths and Virtues). We follow their scientific system in this essay (Peterson & Seligman)

Peterson and Seligman distinguish the components of good character at three levels of abstraction: the virtues as the most abstract level, then character strengths at the middle level, and as the third, most detailed and specific level, the situational themes. Central to the treatment of the three concepts of positive traits varying in abstraction is the concept of character strengths.

The VIA scientific classification has six virtues, with character strengths indicated behind them, as follows:

  • Knowledge and wisdom: creative, interested/curious, eager to learn, thoughtful, wise;
  • Justice: righteous, leader, team player;
  • Humanity: loving (both giving and receiving); kind (charitable, nurturing, caring, compassionate, altruistic); sociable;
  • Courage (spunk and determination): bold, courageous, incorruptible, enthusiastic;
  • Moderation: modest, forgiving, controlled, thoughtful;

– Transcendence (rising above oneself): appreciation of beauty and peak performance, humorous, religious/spiritual, hopeful, grateful.

Character strengths, according to Peterson and Seligman, are the psychological ingredients, processes or mechanisms, that define virtues. In other words, they are the distinguished ways to display one virtue or another. They distinguish a total of 24 character strengths. These character strengths are widely valued, although an individual will rarely possess all of them.

Excluded from the classification of character strengths per se are talents and abilities such as intelligence and traits that are not valued in all cultures, such as neatness, thrift and silence.

According to Peterson and Seligman, character strengths and virtues differ from talents and gifts at least because they belong to the moral domain. Talents and abilities are innate, immutable and less influenced by the will than character strengths and virtues.

In their historical overview, Peterson and Seligman conclude that there is a strong convergence across time, space and intellectual tradition regarding certain core virtues: justice and humanity are characteristic of all virtue systems. Moderation and wisdom follow shortly thereafter as the second group. Transcendence comes fifth, probably because this virtue is more implicit and associated with religion. Courage comes last and, in a traditional sense, is not part of the Eastern virtue systems.

Based on more than a million VIA-IS questionnaires, according to a 2014 survey by McGrath, the most common character strengths in the world are, in order of importance: honesty, fairness, kindness, common sense, eagerness to learn and gratitude.

The least common character strengths in the world are, in descending order: spunk, spirituality, diligence, modesty, and self-control. 


Temperance can be interpreted in two ways. First, keeping the right measure, where, according to Aristotle, a virtue is usually the middle ground between two extremes. The second interpretation is that of ‘moderation’.

The cardinal virtues wisdom, justice, courage and temperance are all four what are called pivotal virtues: indispensable cores of moral quality. Among these is the virtue of the ‘golden middle’: a good person knows how to act at exactly the right moment: that is, neither too early nor too late. He knows how to act in the right way, i.e. not too authoritarian and not too lacking in authority. Always it is a matter of keeping the right measure.

Over time, one of the things necessary for this virtue, namely self-control, has increasingly replaced the traditional concept of temperance.

The strength with which a person is able to control his own desires and cravings is necessary for a moderate life, but it is not the same thing.

One could define moderation as putting limitations on one’s ego, making room for others. Selfishness, licentiousness and arrogance are compensatory vices.

Temperance and moderation can be applied in different areas. We can distinguish between individual measure and social moderation qualities.

The individual moderation qualities are:

– Humility/modesty

– Thrift

– Patience

– Morality, chastity

– Self-discipline, especially when it comes to eating and drinking

   The social moderation qualities are:

– Prudence

– Repentance and forgiveness

Because we follow VIA’s classification, under moderation we are dealing with four character strengths, namely modesty, prudence, self-control and forgiveness.

The virtue of moderation is, in some ways the flip side of the virtue of courage. Whereas courage calls for taking action when it is necessary to do good, moderation has to do with restraining oneself from actions that are bad or socially undesirable. Where the courageous person is likely to be seen as someone of action, the moderate person is more likely to give the impression of being reserved, contemplative, perhaps even subdued. It is this restraint or protective quality against excess that typifies these character strengths.

Simply put, forgiveness protects us from hatred, modesty protects us from pride, prudence from poor choices, and self-regulation protects us from an undisciplined life.

We want to approach behavior improvement integrally by promoting virtuous behavior and neutralizing vice counterparts at the same time. Therefore, we will address the relevant vices under each of the virtues/character strengths.

                          Part 2. Humility and modesty

2.1. History

The early monastic saints Benedict of Nursia (480 – 547) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153) gave ample attention to humility in their writings. St. Benedict in his Rule for All Monks devotes a separate chapter to humility, beginning with the following quote from Holy Scripture, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.”

In doing so, he used the image of the ladder from Jacob’s dream of the Old Testament, in which the angels descend and ascend, that is, descend through pride and ascend to the heavenly level through humility. The first stage of humility consists in this, that by keeping the fear of God always before one’s eyes, one is extremely wary of oblivion; the second stage of humility consists in this, that one is not attached to one’s own will and consequently does not find pleasure in fulfilling one’s own desires. And so on up the stages in increasing degrees of humility. The twelfth and last stage of humility consists in this, that the monk is humble not only in his heart, but his whole posture is an expression of humility to all who see him: always he keeps his head bowed and his eyes lowered. Always he is aware of the guilt of his sins and it is to him as if he had already had to appear before God’s terrifying judgment.

Once the monk has climbed all these steps of humility, he will reach that love for God which is perfect and excludes fear. Because of this love, he will fulfill everything he first accomplished with a certain fear, now without difficulty, as if he did it out of habit or natural inclination.

With Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelve steps of humility become at the same time the steps of pride. He follows the rungs of the ladder, as St. Benedict designed it, but now in the opposite direction. Indeed, St. Bernard describes the steps of pride and not those of humility.  Of humility in this setting we can give the following definition: ‘ humility is the virtue by which man comes to know himself truly and becomes unworthy in his own eyes.’

The twelve stages of pride are:

– first stage: curiosity;

– second: volatility of mind;

– third: exuberant mirth;

– fourth: grandiloquence;

– fifth: extravagance;

– sixth: conceit;

– seventh: audacity;

– eighth: defense of his errors;

– ninth: hypocritical confession;

– tenth: recalcitrance;

– eleventh: freedom to sin;

– twelfth: habit of sinning.

Just as, finally, the righteous, having climbed all these steps, rushes to life already with a cheerful heart and without difficulty because of good habits, so he rushes to death undaunted: the wicked, having descended these steps, does not allow himself to be guided by his reason and does not restrain himself with the rein of fear.

The writings of St. Benedict and St. Bernard imply self-abnegation and asceticism. These are practices that are not prevalent in the Western world today.

At the time of Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), pride was seen as the counterpart of humility and as sufficiently evil to be ranked among the mortal sins. Some even saw it as the primary sin, the source of all evil.

Personally, many are familiar with the Catholic faith, which in my youth still emphasized humility as part of the Gospel. You had to conform to the commandments, prohibitions and other precepts of the Catholic Church, and there was little or no room for exception. Not only through church control, through religious practices, including confession, but also through a widely shared religious-social culture, the perception and observance of Catholic life in a highly homogeneous Catholic environment was intense.

Modesty and obedience to Catholic culture were the result, and few people were exceptions at that time. That modesty you took with you into your life and was a certain handicap in fora where you would might have defended your opinions more strongly. The result was that you were not only very small before (the perspective) God, but also limited in your stance before dominating or influential bosses and forums. Of course, it also had its advantages, such as less confrontation and more unanimity. In this sense, it is correct that humility is sometimes seen as a specifically Christian virtue, relating to the relationship of human beings to a deity, and awareness of their unimportance in that regard and in general.

According to Gabriele Taylor (Gabriele), English specialist in vices, humility still symbolizes something of the supernatural and superhuman, in comparison with which individuals feel limited and dependent. Humility according to Taylor is associated with a sense of “reverence,” a complex phenomenon that includes a sense of awe, as well as discomfort and fear. The term humility sometimes still has negative connotations. One may think of a humble person as weak and passive, with downcast eyes, lacking self-esteem and confidence. Others associate humility with humiliation, evoking images of shame, embarrassment or self-loathing.

Nevertheless, humility need not involve such negative images of the self. The virtue of humility is undervalued. In fact, humble individuals can possess strong positive self-esteem if they base self-esteem on their intrinsic values or dignity, their positive qualities, a sense of self-compassion, their relationships with other people or their orientation to a higher power.

Research indicates that, in general, people tend to inflate their self-image rather than to lower it. This applies even more in moral than intellectual areas.

The essence of humility relates to a non-defensive willingness to accurately assess one’s own self, including strengths and weaknesses. Humble individuals will not intentionally distort information to defend, correct or confirm their image. For humble people, there is no pressure for weightiness and no pressing need to see, or present themselves, as better, than they really are. They are basically not out to dominate others, to receive favors, or to elevate their own status. Humility is exaggerated when it leads to harsh or dismissive approaches to self, to exaggerating weaknesses and missteps and punishing them severely, while overlooking character strengths and successes.

Definition and distinction between humility and modesty

The character strength “humility” is an attitude in which one accurately evaluates one’s achievements and abilities and knows how to put them into perspective. You don’t see yourself as special and can put yourself aside. Others recognize and appreciate humility and modesty.

It is actually easier to state what ‘humility’ is not. See the ‘characteristics’ section for that.

Modesty (Eng. modesty) is a form of humility (Eng. humility) that is more outward: doing things to reduce attention on oneself; the modest estimation of one’s own merits and successes, including in such things as dress code and social behavior. Modest people, even humble ones for that matter, prefer to blend into the crowd or group rather than stand out above it. They do not unnecessarily step forward. Modesty is seen as a more socially-oriented trait. When “modesty” does not refer to people, it indicates something less desirable, such as modest achievement. A modest person is sometimes seen as someone who meekly submits to the opinions of superiors and the better-off, and lacks spunk himself.

In this essay, we use the two terms humility and modesty interchangeably. The two terms are virtually identical for our purposes, and because of the negative connotation, it is desirable not to use humility in isolation. For practical application in our later  gamification game, the distinction is not substantially relevant.

It is difficult to find reliable measurements of humility. Asking people how humble they are is, of course, asking for trouble, in the form of socially desirable answers. Attempts to assess modesty have been more successful because modesty is a social virtue and its self-assessments can be verified.

Of course, we live in an environment and time where the culture is individualistic and assertive. In earlier times in the West and in community and collective societies in Asia and Africa, selfishness was poorly judged and humility encouraged. In established friendships, modesty is still the norm.

Outside the Middle Ages of Saints Benedict of Nursia and Bernard of Clairvaux, it is difficult to find paragons of humility and modesty. Religious figures such as Christ and Buddha often demonstrated deep humility along with other virtues, but humility was not a particularly salient trait with them. A truly humble person does not seek the limelight. Possibly humility most often appears as selfless service/service to others. In “Strangers Drowning. Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity’ Larissa Macfarquhar describes some exceptional cases of ‘do-gooders,’ people who are totally committed to the welfare of others and for whom the world is a permanent war for good. Probably Sister Theresa is also a good example of caring for others. She may have been persuaded to embrace publicity to evoke more good and set a good example.

In a U.S. survey when asked to name a humble person, participants chose: buddies (41%), family (22%), popular religious figures (13%), celebrities (10%) and personal religious leaders (3%). In describing those persons, they mentioned such positive traits as caring for others (56%), being successful (47%) and a selfless or sacrificial attitude (21%).

At high political levels, you find few humble individuals. In fact, there is a significant proportion of narcissists among them. Because well-known persons are in the news so much, they come across as with difficulty as modest. Nevertheless, I believe Jimmy Carter and Obama were relatively modest people, who were not necessarily there for their own honor and glory, but for the interests of people and nation. Pope Francis is also a humble person. He took up residence at the Vatican in the modest St. Martha’s ward. In business, there are probably modest people too. They are said to perform better than arrogant “captains of industry” who promote themselves and their own interests. According to scientific studies, there is a disproportionate number of people with narcissistic traits in senior positions in business. This is because they are self-assured and that reassures employees. So you will find relatively more humble individuals in the service sectors of healthcare, religion and culture. Meanwhile, several research groups are studying the role of humility in areas as diverse as relationships, leadership and the ability to learn.

Given the problems associated with measuring humility and modesty, pure scholars in this field say that nothing is known about the correlations or consequences of these virtues. Peterson and Seligman, however, do not think these conclusions are justified. Research findings from studies on related topics show interesting results. Narcissism is a prominent example. It is easy to say what humility is not, not bragging, not overdoing things, not trying to attract attention, not seeing yourself as more special or important than others. On the other hand, it also means not bowing to another person’s every wish or request and not being extremely self-critical.

2.2 . Characteristics of humility/modesty

Humility is not the same as lack of self-confidence. The humble person does not think less of himself, but thinks less about himself. He knows himself and is open to new insights. And he is not afraid to lose face. Healthy, robust self-confidence is a hallmark of humility. In fact, it is the first of five characteristics of humility mentioned by two American psychologists in an exploratory review article on the psychology of humility (Ellen de Bruin).

They say the other four characteristics of humility are: facing one’s own mistakes, being open to new information, being focused on others and considering everyone equal. On some level, humble people accept the absolute equality of humanity in their universal perspective. Through this broader perspective, humble persons develop a relatively limited focus on the self and develop the trait of “forgetting oneself” and being transcendent. These two traits are also found in the VIA “knowledge and wisdom” virtue, particularly love of learning and open-mindedness.

While humility provides positive intrapersonal benefits, probably its greatest effect is on interpersonal relationships. Because humble individuals do not seek social dominance, they are more willing to learn from others and compliment others on their achievements. If, as the theory suggests, humility helps people put aside self-interest, then humility should be linked to greater levels of forgiveness, regret and compassion. People need to belong and have relationship; a humble attitude would make healthy, vibrant interpersonal relationships more likely.

The four components of being open-minded, forgetting oneself, modest self-assessment and attentive to others, roughly parallel the following definitive characteristics of humility: being open to new ideas, conflicting information and advice with a willingness to acknowledge one’s mistakes, relatively low focus on oneself, forgetting oneself, making modest judgments about one’s qualities and accomplishments and keeping them in perspective in relation to the surrounding world; and finally, an appreciation for the many different ways others can and do contribute to the greater good.

To begin with, those who are humble have a “calm, accepting sense of self” that is not hypersensitive to ego threats. Too little self-confidence is not a characteristic of humility, but of depression. And too much self-confidence, or worse, a wobbly self-image, is more a hallmark of narcissism, in many ways the opposite of humility. Humble people know themselves well and take responsibility themselves when they do things wrong. What helps with this is the third characteristic of humble people: that they are open to new insights, both about themselves and the world around them. Humility has a self-transcendent perspective that encourages fundamental relationships with others. Because they believe that other people are worthy and valuable, humble people accept others. They don’t worry that they might come off, and partly because they don’t have that stress, they learn better. And because they don’t have to polish their own ego as much, they have room in their minds to be genuinely happy when other people are doing well. On the other hand, both narcissists and depressives are constantly concerned with themselves. Finally, humble people believe that everyone has the same intrinsic value. We are all equal; no one is better than another. Clearly, narcissists think differently about this too.

So humble people have an accurate (not understated) appreciation of their own qualities and achievements. Truly humble people think positively of themselves and have a good sense of who they are, but they are also aware of, and can acknowledge, their faults, gaps in their knowledge and imperfections. Most importantly, they are content without being a center of attention or being praised for their actions. Modest people usually behave in a straightforward manner. They keep their qualities and achievements in perspective. They are open to new ideas, conflicting information and advice. They appreciate the value of all things as well as the many different ways people and things can contribute to our world.

VIA believes that a humble approach can bring great benefits to the individual, both in terms of emotional well-being and self-control. A humble/ modest self-image, under conditions of ego threats, can protect people from taking bad risks and decisions. Humble people also enjoy benefits in other ways because they are free from self-preoccupation. When individuals strive to project an exaggerated self-image, they may experience it as a psychological burden. Such a burden can lead to the need to find a way out through destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, masochism, dietary disorders or, even, suicide. A humble approach, especially when accompanied by the opportunity for self-transcendence, should preclude this drawback.

The humble person can save emotional and psychological energy by not having to continually defend his self-image against attacks.

Humility is associated with healthy self-esteem and a positive view of one’s own needs. Humility means seeing ourselves and our abilities clearly. Humility is necessary to see the truth both that about ourselves and about the nature of reality. It provides a relatively narrow focus on one’s own self and has the property of ‘forgetting oneself’.

Humble people usually demonstrate higher levels of gratitude, forgiveness, spirituality and general health. In interpersonal relationships, humility and empathy provide a way to resolve conflict by making forgiveness and reconciliation likely.

If you score high in humility you are good at giving others credit or prominence. Conversely, this leads to being valued and loved: the humble person makes friends easily. Humility protects you from adopting selfish forms of behavior, such as arrogance.

Humility strengthens social relationships. Humble people are also more helpful, agreeable and generous. Studies have shown that humility is linked to persistence, self-regulation and kindness.

Humble people are also less concerned about death and show more (religious) tolerance.

Finally, cross-cultural research has suggested that willingness to be self-critical, to an appropriate degree, can help set up self-improvement goals; personal shortcomings are only addressed when we want to see that they exist.

True humility has to do with an absence of arrogance, (selfish) pride and narcissistic claims. It involves honesty with yourself and sensitive honesty with others. That is, not giving others unwanted or unhelpful advice, but honest feedback.

Scientists have come to the conclusion that cultivating humility is no easy task and does not happen overnight. Nevertheless, one of the great rewards of humility is an inner freedom to guard against those parts of our character and behavior that we try to hide from ourselves and others. In other words, we thus develop a calm, understanding and compassionate heart.

Truly humble people are capable of this kind of gift because they see and accept their own strengths and limitations without being defensive or judgmental.

This is a key characteristic of humble individuals that cultivates powerful compassion for humanity, according to humility researchers.

The benefits of humility are not limited to leaders. Humble people, for example, manage stress more effectively and report higher levels of physical and mental well-being. They also demonstrate greater generosity, helpfulness and gratitude, all traits that can help us be closer to others.

In sharp contrast to what can happen in cases of strong feelings of entitlement, a modest self-image can prevent conflict escalation. After a confrontation, a willingness to look at one’s own weaknesses can prompt one to seek and offer forgiveness. People are more forgiving to the extent that they recognize that they could have made the same mistake that was done to them (see the poem by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius).

Scripps College research has found that humility with openness toward other persons, called kenotic empathy, is the key to a thriving community and functioning democracy. It is interactive and interpersonal rather than intellectual and involves the affirmation of people’s worth and dignity even, and especially, in the absence of shared understanding.

It is clear that humility/modesty possesses a host of advantages, on its own and even more so when compared to the disadvantages of the vice pride, arrogance or narcissism.

So it is important to promote humility and modesty in upbringing and behavior.

Part 3. Corresponding vices

  3.1 General

Humility, rather than the observation of certain thoughts or behavior, can also be indicated as the absence of a defensive attitude or of unsound behavior such as pride, arrogance, narcissism and other forms of self-aggrandizement.

We have said from the beginning that virtues and corresponding vices must be addressed together. We are rarely at the zero point between virtue and vice, usually more toward the vice than the other way around, and so it is necessary to fight the vice in order to become the virtue’s owner.

Corresponding vices in humility are: pride, narcissism, vanity, conceit and arrogance. In modesty: immodesty, pretense, shamelessness, power-seeking, insolence, conceit and smugness. So there is considerable overlap between the compensatory vices of humility and modesty.

Recent research suggests that “pride” is conceived and experienced in two different ways. The first, ‘authentic pride’ is associated with feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem and productivity and is positively correlated with a socially desirable personality profile, characterized by extraversion, leniency, conscientiousness, emotional stability and high self-esteem.

Individuals with a high degree of authentic pride have a greater sense of purpose in life. They pay attention not only to their own qualities but also to larger social problems.

Authentic pride occurs from taking responsibility for a specific action that is considered positive and socially valuable. One gains a sense of pride from doing things one is capable of, and which require effort and determination. The result is greater self-esteem.

Today’s Western culture, unlike medieval culture, encourages, under the guise of self-esteem, the pursuit of pride. When trying to place blame for social ills, such as drug addiction and violence, the modern world often points to low self-esteem. Individuals now see authentic pride as not only acceptable but also valuable. Judging oneself favorably can provide benefits such as positive feelings and self-confidence to pursue goals. However, by drawing attention to the benefits of positive appreciation of self, we can easily overlook the benefits of the unpretentious character strength humility/modesty.

The second form, “selfish pride” or “pride,” is characterized by selfishness and arrogance and is accompanied by unkindness, aggression, low self-esteem and shame.

Arrogance, pride and selfish pride are used interchangeably in much research. We follow that example.

Selfish arrogance produces an aggressive (versus assertive), closed-minded attitude and is a mask for insecurity. It is often accompanied by narcissism, insecurity and insufficient confidence for self-examination. Conceit and vanity are also evidence of insecurity. Consequently, self-respect, self-esteem and self-love should be increased. According to the American statesman and philosopher Benjamin Franklin, pride was the most difficult of the vices to overcome!

Arrogance comes from pride, not on the basis of certain actions, such as authentic pride, but on the basis of the whole person. Selfish pride is related to narcissism, where important actions are not the result of effort, but of a misplaced sense of superior status.

Selfish pride means having a proud image of yourself rather than what you actually are. It relies on an alienation from the self, forming a gap between the way we are and the self-image we have. So that pride gets in the way of seeing things as they really are.

The two typical reactions to “wounded” pride are shame and humiliation.

Selfish pride or pride (hubris) was widely regarded as the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins and, worse, the origin of the other deadly sins. It is now seen as the desire to be more important or attractive than others, unwillingness to give deserved compliments to others and exceptional self-love. Haughtiness is pride used without honest merit to dispel inner insecurity. Perhaps the most famous example is the story of Lucifer, where his pride (desire to compete with God) caused his fall from heaven and led to his transformation into Satan.

There is also a connection between humility, arrogance and power. In this regard, power is a potential enemy of humility/modesty. It can have a corrupting influence on our behavior. Dacher Keltner says that power makes us less dependent on others.  Power corrupts because it leads to:

  • – empathy deficits and diminished moral feelings;
  • – impulsive self-interest;
  • – rudeness and disrespect; and
  • – narratives of exceptionality.

There are 5 ways to stop abusing power:

  • – awareness of your feelings of power;
  • – practicing humility. The more we approach our power to influence others with humility, the greater our real power is;
  • – focusing on others and giving in many ways;
  • – practice respect. By respecting others, we make them worthy;
  • – change the psychological context of powerlessness: for example, in the form of women’s empowerment, less inequality and anti-racism.

3.2 Narcissism

The vices pride, arrogance and narcissism are traditionally the counterparts of virtue humility. Narcissism has been studied further in recent years; because it is an important vice, we pay special attention to it here.

Narcissism lies on a continuum from healthy to pathological. Healthy narcissism (authentic pride) is part of normal human functioning. It can mean healthy self-love and self-confidence based on genuine achievements, the ability to overcome adversity and to draw support from interpersonal relationships. While it can be difficult for narcissists to build lasting relationships, they have some advantages in beginning social interactions. Narcissism is then associated with greater extraversion, a certain style of humor and charming behavior. Narcissists may be found charming in the beginning. Narcissists derive some advantages from their elevated self-esteem, such as low social anxiety and high self-esteem. They surround themselves with admirer(s) and try to hook up with popular and attractive others. However, a narcissist’s charms quickly become transparent and leave others with the impression of superficiality, hostility and arrogance. Narcissism becomes a problem when the individual becomes preoccupied with himself, needs exceptional admiration and approval from others and shows disdain for the feelings of others. 

Tracy has conducted research that indicates that group members who exhibit proud behavior, authentic or selfish, are often identified as leaders. They are disproportionately represented in leadership roles, which in the case of narcissists can be detrimental to the constructive functioning of the group. In tasks involving deductive logic, narcissistic leaders had better results even when group members did not like them and did not value membership in the group. Leaders with authentic pride on the other hand had better group results when it came to creativity or innovation. They were also more liked and group members valued their work more.

Both narcissists and depressed people are constantly concerned with themselves. Narcissism is a pride adopted to dispel an inner sense of insecurity. Narcissists’ pride is not about feeling good, but about avoiding feeling bad. They are vulnerable to shame, have problematic relationships and few close friends.

If the narcissist does not get the desired attention, drug addiction and severe depression can occur.

Too much self-confidence, or worse, a wobbly self-image, is a hallmark of narcissism. In many ways, this is the opposite of humility. The ego of narcissists is very easy to hurt, so they constantly seek reparative affirmation.

Narcissists also do not have a clear picture of their good and bad traits. They inflate their positive traits and blame others for their mistakes.

Narcissism exists in degrees and we previously distinguished ‘authentic'(positive) pride from ‘selfish (negative) pride

(Note: You can take the Dutch Narcissistic Inventory Test at Quest at: https://tests.quest.nl/psychologie)

Narcissism has been identified with insecure self-esteem, suggesting that narcissists probably spend considerable energy maintaining their inflated self-image.

Narcissism as a rare personality disorder (NPD) was added to the DSM-III psychiatric manual in 1980.

It is difficult to find solid statistics on the prevalence of NPD. This is because few people with NPD, seek treatment. And when they do, they deny that they have narcissistic symptoms or personality traits. According to the DSM, one-half to one percent of the general population is diagnosed with NPD. Among the clinical population, the proportion ranges from 2 to 16 percent. Over the course of life, NPD is said to occur in 6.2% of the population, more in women (7.7%) than in men (4.8%). It typically affects more young people than older people.

Narcissistic personality disorder is two-sided. On the one hand, an inflated sense of self-importance and thirst for being admired is central; on the other, there is an extreme sense of inferiority and insecurity. Narcissistic behavior is often difficult to recognize.

Some narcissistic characteristics in a row:     

  • – Addicted to attention. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder constantly wants to be admired;
  • – Arrogance, a large ego. People with narcissism are convinced that they are “special” and have illusions of unlimited success;
  • – Lack of emotions and lack of empathy;
  • – Play to charm;
  • – Aggressive behavior and no boundary setting;
  • – Power lust and exploitation of others;
  • – Lack of guilt or remorse;
  • – Extremely jealous;
  • – Shameless;
  • – Excessive entitlements and claims;

There are other narcissistic symptoms; Deep down, people with narcissism are often lonely, vulnerable and have a high sense of inferiority. Consequently, people with narcissistic traits are very sensitive to hurt and rejection. Criticism of their behavior often leads in their minds to the undermining of them as a person. They then often react with anger, hiding the powerlessness, insecurity and shame they feel deep inside. Contrary to popular belief, defensive self-esteem, not low self-esteem, is linked to more violent behavior.

Added to this, narcissists have great difficulty tolerating genuine intimacy, as this requires them to show vulnerability.

Causes of narcissistic personality disorder ( NPD).

Researchers are not sure what causes NPD. There are many theories about it. Most specialists subscribe to a bio-psychosocial model of causes, meaning that they are likely due to a combination of biological and genetic (hereditary) factors, social factors (how a person interacts in early years with family, friends and other children) and psychological factors (personality and temperament, shaped by environment and learned methods of coping with stress).

Some scientists have labeled narcissism a “modern epidemic. Certain research indicates that in recent decades there has been a societal shift from the collective to the individual. NPD appears to be on the rise; the incidence of NPD is said to have doubled in the first decade of this century. NPD is more prevalent among younger adults, which could indicate that it has recently increased among young people. Only three percent of people over the age of 65 had some experience with NPD in surveys, compared with 10 percent among young people between the ages of 20 and 30. This indication is all the stronger because NPD can only be diagnosed from the age of 18.

Another study (Ho et al) confirms what we already know about trends in lifetime narcissistic and egocentric traits. Young adults in this study may have already been at a stage when belief in their invincibility was changing due to sobering experiences. With advancing age, possibly most people experience this kind of change, so that by middle age, self-esteem becomes more dependent on what one is really capable of.

Upbringing and environment play an important role. Children are not born with a narcissistic personality but develop it gradually. Children are easily put on a pedestal by their parents and thus can develop narcissistic traits. Narcissism is said to first manifest when children are around seven years old. At that age, they learn to make judgments about themselves by comparing themselves to others. Around that age, it is also possible to encourage narcissistic traits, something we have begun to do more of in recent decades. Some see this as an outgrowth of the neoliberal philosophy that has become widespread in the (Western) world under the influence of theorist Ayn Rand and the Chicago School.

Reality TV shows have great narcissistic “content,” both in terms of characters and behavior, and that is what many young people watch. With children, more attention should be given to empathy. Most parents try to teach their children to be nice. However, the general cultural direction is to encourage them to be successful and believe in themselves, rather than paying attention to others.

There is also evidence that social media such as Facebook leads to cocky behavior.

Can you change a narcissist?

Since narcissism is based on certain core beliefs that people develop in childhood, it can also be unlearned, scholars say. With help from friends or partners, narcissists can get a grip on their feelings. Research provides two strategies for doing so. For example, a narcissist’s sense of superiority can diminish when he or she practices looking more closely at themselves. By thinking about personal growth, you learn how to improve things about yourself. This reduces the need to want to be better than someone else every time. Forming warm, close relationships can also help a narcissist. In a long-term intimate relationship, feelings of superiority can soften and give way to reciprocal feelings of appreciation and love. In doing so, however, the first step must be a willingness to put oneself in another person’s shoes and adopt an empathetic or compassionate attitude. This is difficult because lack of empathy in narcissists is not a matter of not being able to but not wanting to. We should not be constantly put on a pedestal; and that starts with raising children (at home, at school and in social life).

Personality disorders are difficult to treat. People with NPD do not seek treatment and are often highly defensive about their narcissism. Even if they seek treatment, they may struggle to acknowledge their narcissistic traits. Or they use therapy as a way to elicit admiration or blame others for their difficulties. Indeed, people with NPD can be charming and manipulative.

In the interpersonal field, we find major long-term disadvantages of narcissism. There, humility seems to be a better option. If people are not too preoccupied with maintaining a very positive self-esteem, they will not lash out against others who threaten or challenge that self-esteem. Narcissists score high on measures of competition, domination, hostility and anger. Modest self-esteem, on the other hand, can prevent or reduce conflict escalation.

After a misstep, a willingness to look at one’s mistakes invites people to seek and give forgiveness. People are more forgiving to the extent that they can acknowledge that they could have committed the same wrong that was done to them. Narcissism, on the other hand, is negatively related to seeking forgiveness.

Narcissists are also more likely to behave in ways that cause interpersonal conflict, such as cheating. And taking credit from partners in joint projects. Empathy, caring and commitment correlate negatively with narcissism. Narcissists also have difficulty acknowledging or expressing gratitude.

From a social standpoint, feelings of entitlement and rights are a particularly important part of narcissism. Narcissists feel they are entitled to special treatment and other benefits, and they are eager to amass everything they think they are entitled to.

3.3 Deadly Vices (Gabrielle Taylor)

Gabrielle Taylor wrote a profound book (Deadly Vices) on vices. We quote and refer to it frequently in this section. Of special interest to us here is the vice selfish pride, formerly called pride (Eng. hubris). According to her, there are three kinds of pride and not all of them are corrupting. She refers to the English philosopher David Hume, who thought it clear that pride is not always a vice and that it has often been praised as a virtue. But it has been considered both a perfectly desirable virtue, probably as “authentic pride,” and an absolutely destructive vice. Feeling proud about something or other on a special occasion may well be entirely innocent or even beneficial to those who experience that emotion, e.g., a beautifully tended garden or successful children. Feelings of pride ultimately focus on one’s own person. Emotional, authentic pride of this kind, discussed earlier, is not directly relevant to pride as virtue or vice. Pride of this kind expresses an appropriate sense of our own power and thus amounts to justified self-esteem.

At least three main types of negative pride can be distinguished; they are vanity, conceit and arrogance. Each of these types covers several cases and any individual who is vain, conceited or arrogant may be more or less so. According to Taylor, they share common characteristics, while arrogance is the most lethal of the three. 

The predominant characteristic of a totally vain person is the fascination with her presence and appearance, how she comes over to others. Much time and energy is spent trying to hide reality from others and herself. Most obvious, but not only, is the outward appearance of the person, which is the center of attention and concern. Above all, they are concerned about the impression they make on the world around them; they see their appearance as a way to garner praise and applause, to which they can then in turn respond with enhanced self-esteem. Such an attitude is not that of a person who has solid self-esteem. On the contrary, she seeks her worth in the judgment of others. This places her in a precarious situation, for the reaction of others is something one cannot rely on, especially if flattery, rather than honest conviction, pleases the vain. Hearing can indeed be fickle and unreliable; awareness of that instability, in turn, leads to uncertainty in the vanity, a vicious cycle. In their constant search for specific responses, vain persons see others only as a potential audience from which to draw admiration, a situation that makes it impossible to build correct personal relationships.

Vain persons are much like conceited persons in that they also depend on others to maintain the conviction of their own excellence, but they differ in the nature of their dependence. While vain people need others to get a flattered view of themselves, conceited people use others to establish their own superiority. Conceited persons look to others to confirm their own superiority in the latter’s inferiority. But a self-esteem that needs constant affirmation is a false self-esteem.

In arrogant pride (conceit), comparison plays no role: it is pride that pretends an importance it does not have. Another distinction from vanity and conceit is that arrogance refers entirely to oneself. Which makes it all the more deadly.

Like with vanity, arrogant persons substitute illusion for reality, but unlike them, they are indifferent to admiration and approval from others. Their self-confidence has no need to be fed in this way or by comparison.

All forms of pride involve a relationship of self and other. Vanity and conceit are unsound in that they, in various ways, sully this relationship and thereby assign a weight to their own position that is not at all commensurate with the importance they assign to others, whose role is primarily to satisfy their selfish needs. In their dependence on others, vanities and conceits acknowledge their mutual existence. Arrogant proud ones, however, do not seem to need that support from others. They see themselves as superior and unique, on a different level. They focus exclusively on themselves; their worldview is the image of themselves in the world

There are several sides to the misconceptions of the arrogant proud. They think of themselves as having a value system superior to that of others. But this is not the case; on the contrary arrogant persons cannot have a correct grasp of the world of values at all, because they have no access to any kind of objectivity, and consequently have no yardstick by which to distinguish between subjective and objective determinations of values. Second, where there is no possibility for subjective/objective distinctions, there is also no possibility for knowledge acquisition. There can be no appeal to whatever criteria of truth, even though possession of them is a necessary condition for knowledge. Arrogant prides can have neither knowledge of others nor of themselves as value determinants. Even so, self-knowledge at least depends on taking seriously the reaction of others to oneself, and arrogants are incapable of that. Finally, the lack of that facility brings with it the impossibility of any self-development whatsoever. Their situation is completely static. Given the above characteristics, it should be obvious that arrogant persons suffer from a shriveled self, deprived as they are of constructive relationships with others and essential types of knowledge. Consequently, the contrast is great between their fantasy self and their real self. Arrogant persons see themselves as god and therefore perfect. Their core desires are therefore to confirm and maintain that position. That is a desire but to have desires at all is a difficulty for arrogants. The road to survival is closed and self-destruction is inherent in the situation of arrogant pride.

Vain and conceited persons overwhelmingly look for support for their self-image and therefore it is obvious that they are not sure of their situation. They are involved in a process of constant reaffirmation of their worth by avoiding self-knowledge. Arrogant prides do not seem to have the need for such confirmation. Since of course none of their valuations are real, neither can their self-assessment be taken seriously, but that is not to say that they do not feel secure in their feelings of superiority. But because they have placed themselves in such an isolated situation, any threat to their self-image is out of the question. They have no need for reassurance because they have protected themselves entirely through their untouchable fantasy. Far from indicating a sense of security, such moves rather indicate a refusal to face the problem of a valuable self. Perhaps this entitles the proud arrogants to occupy the position of the deadliest of all vices.

The arrogant, the envious, the resentful and the lustful can be said to have the desire structure of their vice such that, in distinguished ways, they are prone to aggressive behavior, which is harmful to others.

Part 4. Developing modesty

In our daily lives, we don’t often take the time to experiment with our behavior. We think something is working well enough and stop there. To change, we need insight into ourselves and motivation!

Authors, including well-known happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, argue that humility does not have to be just a stable personality trait, but that people can have a humble mood from time to time. For example, at the birth of a child, during a religious experience, when someone accomplishes something great or when people connect deeply with someone who has similar problems. This is a hopeful idea, psychologists believe: if humility is not merely a stable trait, you could theoretically teach and cultivate it in people. If you know what it is related to and what exactly it consists of.

If self-development is seen as a motivated and partly controllable strategy, according to VIA, humility seems to be within the reach of most people.

Thumos is Greek for the animated sense of motivation. In the Superbetter game, it speaks of challenge.  It can also be fueled by anger. Physical fitness, exercise and gymnastics weigh into the willingness to accept challenges. Just balling your fists above your head ten times provides a kick for further action.

We have seen before that the virtue of humility/modesty has great potential benefits, both for individuals and for society at large. At a time when more and more people seem to be motivated by entitlement/rights and narcissism – and these qualities often even seem to be valued in others – we need humility/modesty as an antidote to the social problems associated with isolation and arrogance.

But how can we cultivate it? The results of recent research on humility could help us become more humble, but at the same time suggest that there are limits to what science can tell us about humility. Scientists distrust their own reports (self-reports) about humility. Perhaps we should distinguish between a long-term and a short-term approach to humility. The latter scoops us up with the problem that short-term methods should produce lasting formation.

Virtuous activities should correspond as much as possible to the four cardinal virtues. Promotion of humility/modesty should be done according to virtue ethics and the highest moral principles.

4.1 Longer-term approach

Learned young, done old!

VIA hypothesizes that the factors that produce secure attachments with others also lay the foundation for humility.

Thorough security provides a sense of safety that can serve as a punching block against the effects of negative feedback. However, a sense of security by itself will be insufficient to induce humility because a strongly secured person could become arrogant when not receiving realistic feedback. To become humble, it is essential that a child’s upbringing include both positive and constructive negative feedback. Such lessons could come from parental example behavior, or humility-making feedback. Realistic feedback, from parent or teacher, about strengths and weaknesses could be especially helpful, especially if conveyed in an atmosphere of care and respect. Other sources of humbling feedback might include awe-inspiring experiences, teaching methods that emphasize the limits of human knowledge, or situations in which the person faces failure or disillusionment.

What would probably not work well for teaching humility would be parenting or teaching methods that: a/ place a strong emphasis on achievement, appearance, popularity or other external sources of self-esteem, especially when combined with perfectionist performance; b/ inaccurate, exceptional praise or criticism; c/ frequent comparison of the child with siblings or other peers; d/ communicate to the child that he or she is better or worse than other children. Such practices might prompt the child to seek external affirmation for a sense of security, and they might encourage the child to make competing, negative comparisons.

Because identity development is a necessary condition for the presence of humility or modesty, factors that facilitate this process will undoubtedly stimulate the development of these two virtues: the phenomenon of attachment, the development of a sense of self, the emergence of independence in childhood, openness to new experiences, experience in decision making, and life reflection and integration in old age. Democratic parenting promotes adolescent identity development; autocratic and non-committal parenting do not.

Connection to family and relatives promotes identity formation. Encouraging behaviors, such as explanation, empathy and tolerance, promote identity development better than inhibiting behaviors, such as condemnation and devaluation.

These factors and others promote the development of humility and modesty only indirectly. Direct influences, both positive and negative, on these virtues have not been studied to date.

A number of studies suggest more humble self-presentation in women than in men. Because of the measurement issues surrounding humility, VIA has no data that directly indicate gender differences in humility.

There is a whole battery of ways to encourage people to develop virtuous feelings and attitudes.

In the service of accuracy, people seem willing to accept some negative feedback.

Religious orientation promotes humility through self-transcendence. Simply feeling small or dependent (e.g., Christianity) might not be enough to lead to the non-defensive position we associate with humility. In fact, a constant sense of being brought down might lead some individuals to a status of shame or unimportance. For religions to promote humility, they must encourage people to see themselves not only as small but also as valuable and secure.

Methods of Alcohol Anonymous, character development programs, spiritual disciplines and psychotherapeutic interventions could also be effective in reinforcing humility. But empirical tests, VIA says, are lacking in all these areas.

Although empirical data are scarce, existing theory and research suggest some strategies that might promote humility-related goals such as accuracy, self-actualization and a willingness to lower self-esteem in a particular area. To promote accurate self-esteem, for example, it seems essential to give people honest feedback about both their strengths and weaknesses, preferably from an early age. Methods from the literature on reverence and awe could be used to increase competence for self-actualization. Foundational Christian literature suggests some behavioral methods that could work against self-glorification, for example, humble manual labor. Seeking forgiveness or keeping a gratitude journal could also be humility-making if each of these activities makes people more aware of their obligations to others. Forging close relationships could also promote greater humility and modesty. Certain research suggests that the self-serving tendency is reduced or eliminated in the context of friendships

VIA hypothesizes that all of these methods, by themselves, will be insufficient to obtain humble states of mind, let alone reinforcement of humility as a character trait, unless they lead to a change in lifestyle. This conclusion probably applies to all attempts to increase any character strength, but is particularly applicable to humility.

Another potential problem is that when people receive feedback that is contradictory or emotionally painful to accept, they simply do not make that information their own.

Any of the preceding approaches could be counterproductive if they make someone feel hopeless, embarrassed or unimportant, feelings that in turn can trigger negative emotions or reactions. People often defend themselves against a threat (cleaning toilets, washing feet) by self-exaltation or by behaving aggressively. Successful humility exercises, in short, require a delicate balance: they must encourage a person to reduce self-focus or gain a new sense of self without feeling their ego being erased or damaged.

VIA believes that people are more willing and able to cultivate humility if they have a sense of security or worth that is not entirely dependent on self-esteem. VIA therefore suggests that any method, resource or relationship that would provide a person with alternative methods of feeling secure in addition to that of self-evaluation would facilitate humility. A sense of security could come from religion, from security with parents or other loved ones who communicate an unconditionally positive attitude. It might also be useful to observe role models who are able to accept, without overreaction, both positive and negative information about themselves. Apart from the methods used, the goal would be to enable the individual to feel sufficiently safe to nondefensively acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses.

4.2 Taylor

To find ways to address arrogant, selfish pride and narcissistic behavior, Taylor dwelled on compensatory virtues, which we discuss further below. In the following, we lean heavily on her work.

In trying to find methods to develop humility and modesty, we must simultaneously try to find ways to reduce or eliminate the influence of the vice counterparts of those two virtues. Thus, we must try to find ways to address arrogant, selfish pride and narcissistic behavior.

In their attitude toward themselves, vices are self-destructive. A compensatory virtue should then somehow be beneficial to that self; where vices destroy and corrupt, a compensatory virtue should heal. The self-centeredness of vices is normally seen as reflected in their attitudes toward others. In various ways and degrees, they can all be referred to as moral solipsists (solipsism is the philosophical doctrine that only our own self and its acts of consciousness exist); their self-preoccupation is complemented by indifference to others.

Self-healing requires the removal of that indifference toward others. Vices do not value themselves. They lack self-esteem, self-respect and self-love. These are the healing virtues they all need. But to possess these even to a limited level, it is necessary to give up their solipsistic position. The moral solipsist fails to see others as independent persons. To recognize others you must be able to both account for their consciousness and at least occasionally have an accompanying sense of it. Call it transcendence, of which there are multiple levels. The least required is a shift of total self-focus.

Elementary sympathy, the aptitude to account to oneself for the state of consciousness of the other beyond oneself, is necessary for avoiding moral solipsism and for possessing a self-healing virtue. More is required if it is to be considered a virtue, for elementary sympathy can go hand in hand with a series of negative reactions. To provide motivation for its positive use and ensure its healing influence on the person, elemental sympathy must be complemented by self-transcending feelings.

Such feelings play a role in a fuller form of sympathy, but particularly in personal love, and it is love that is a leading candidate for the status of healing virtue. The role of love is further especially significant in this context due to the teaching that vice is love degenerated in various ways. Consequently, it is important to develop self-respect, self-esteem, self-love and love for others.

Self-transcendence, being directed beyond oneself, is a necessary condition for self-love. Both love for another and true self-love are healing virtues, but it is self-love that is most applicable to the situation of vices. From this point of view, its most important element is the sense of self-esteem it implies, a self-esteem that contains at least a certain level of relative objectivity. The possession of self-esteem would render unnecessary the constant search for self-protection, to which vices are condemned. With a lesser need for self-protection, there is also a lesser need for the web of self-deception in which they are entangled. 

Persons high in self-transcendence value good relationships with others, justice, and are compassionate and forgiving. If prideful individuals could be encouraged to adopt these values they would likely be less likely to grasp immediate rewards and instead become more like those with high levels of authentic pride.

Dr. Jessamy Hibberd, a clinical psychologist in London, says that self-criticism is the biggest obstacle to forming new habits and that behavior change requires you to show self-compassion. Study after study shows that self-criticism is correlated with less motivation and lower self-control, especially when faced with failure.

Individual virtues may correspond to a specific vice, in our case humility/modesty with pride/arrogance.

The damage inherent in possessing one of the vices affects all of a person’s competencies. It is then to be expected that the good of a compensatory virtue is likewise spread. Nor is it surprising that given the overlap and connections among the vices, the compensatory virtues also overlap and have connections among themselves.

For the various forms of vice pride, humility and modesty seem to be the obvious complementary virtues. But neither seems to be a particularly promising candidate.

The truly humble person must not only regulate her behavior but also engage her will, which is not to say that she cannot assert herself. Appeals to others, after all, can be perfectly justified and even necessary.

Rather, modesty involves a balanced assessment of one’s strengths and limitations, and thereby of one’s position in relation to others. A modest person, who feels relatively secure in her assessment of self-worth, need not rely on flattery or comparison with others to appear in a favorable light. Modesty might be the virtue that vain and conceited persons need. But modesty does not seem to affect (proud) arrogant persons, for in their isolating idolization of themselves, they do not deign to use such boosts to their self-esteem. It is another version of humility that applies to them.

Arrogant individuals pay little or no attention to the rights of others. A sense of justice would correct this. Consequently, justice and the confidence associated with it can be proposed as a complementary virtue for combating arrogance.

Traditionally, the model for virtuous people has been that in their case reason is in control. Since vices have been characterized as irrational, rationality could be seen as one of the prominent features of virtue possession.

The irrationality and rationality of vices and virtues, respectively, do not refer to the relationship between “passion” and “reason. Instead, they refer to the complex of cognitive, affective and volitional institutions and states involved in the attitude and direction of caring. For vices, the focus of caring is exclusively their own situation, and the irrationality of their attitude lies in its lack of cohesion and consequent deception of themselves. Conversely, the rationality of the virtuous contributes to their authenticity. This is because they do not live in a fantasy world that can only be kept going by distortion and suppression of desires, a process that leaves the person to her fate and robs her of control over her life. Rational caring is a step against self-centeredness.

4.3.           Short-term actions

Change begins with self-awareness, self-assessment, empathy and good communication, including good listening. With identifying weaknesses and making a decision to change one or more habits. Most importantly, you have to be honest with yourself says Zbigsky Zackkrewski.  You can hardly influence society if you haven’t changed yourself first. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, honesty and humility.

Life is constantly changing, and one must examine whether old habits and beliefs are still serving one. A lack of self-awareness is toxic. The antidote is reflection and contemplation.  Don’t make one aspect of your identity a dominant part of who you are. The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it later.

To change a habit or trait, it is helpful to create a plan that leans mostly on place and time, the most frequent elements in an implementation plan.

In a perfect world, Clean says, the reward of a good habit would be the habit itself. This is the hallmark of true virtue practice! In practice, the author says, good habits feel valuable after they have delivered something.

Vicki Zakrzewski offers three scientifically sound tips for taming your ego: a/ embrace your humanity; b/ practice mindfulness and compassion; and c/ express gratitude.

Embrace your humanity.

Humble people have the quality to resist failure or criticism. This comes from their sense of intrinsic human worth rather than relying on outward appearances. If something doesn’t turn out as expected, they don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. It just means they are human, just like the rest of us. Scientists suggest that the feeling of this intrinsic value comes from security, or a healthy, close emotional bond with loved ones, usually caregivers, in childhood. The experience of unconditional acceptance and love, especially when we are young, can serve as a buffer against the effects of criticism or failure.

Unfortunately, not all of us knew safe security in childhood. One study found that an overwhelming 40% of adults do not feel safely secure even now. Fortunately, this lack can be healed through positive relationships, such as with friends, romantic partners or even a higher power. Thus, one method is to find partners who have secure attachment styles. Positive experiences with such individuals can, over time, lift insecure impulses.

Practice mindfulness and self-compassion

Mindfulness and self-compassion have been associated with greater psychological resilience and emotional well-being in recent years. Without the latter, it is difficult to cultivate humility. According to scientists, humble people have a correct self-image, both in terms of their weaknesses and strengths. This helps them see what could be changed about their inner self. Mindfulness strengthens our self-awareness by dwelling on our thoughts and emotions without judgment. When we judge what is happening inside us, we form a distorted picture of ourselves. Reflection on one’s own behavior, meditation and mindfulness are generally effective in cultivating virtues. Philosophize about life perspective and death, the most humbling fact of life. This gives greater psychological resilience and emotional well-being and is good for humility.

An authentically humble person has robust self-confidence. Possibly a critical but not negative attitude or behavior toward oneself. Too much self-criticism reduces motivation and self-control. That self-confidence is based on one’s own values/worthiness, positive qualities, achievements, self-compassion, relationships or higher power.

Gain wisdom and humility through life experience. Participate in social activities and gain practical, possibly sobering experiences and humbling feedback. Risk setbacks and learn to deal with them.

Successful humility exercises demand delicate balance between less self-focus and avoiding ego damage.

If others are involved, be empathetic. Always be aware of the situation and needs of others and give them ample opportunity to express their views. Above all, try to listen yourself; be happy for the other person.

Collaborate with friends/partners. Possibly participate in support group. Maintain warm, secure attachment styles with others. Be open to new information/insights; open communication, don’t be afraid to lose face.

Practice simplicity, obedience, courtesy, respect, generosity, helpfulness, gratitude and forgiveness. These behaviors bring us closer to others.

Practice gratitude.

By saying “thank you,” we acknowledge the gifts that come into our lives and, consequently, the value of other people. Gratitude can make us focus less on ourselves and more on others, a characteristic of humble people. A recent study concluded that gratitude and humility mutually reinforce each other. Expressing gratitude can generate humility in us, and humble people have a greater capacity to express gratitude.

Some simple ways to become more grateful are the following:

Keep a gratitude journal. With just two weeks of indicating three experiences each day that made us feel grateful during the day, it has been found that life satisfaction can increase and anxiety can decrease. Such positive results can last as long as six months.

Individual gratitude letters have the same positive effect.

Remember bad times and realize how good you have it in comparison now, including with others, here and elsewhere.

Ask yourself three questions about your experience with others: what have I received, what have I given and what problems have I caused?

Share your gratitude with others to strengthen relationships.

Use your senses, smell, taste, hearing, feeling, etc. Seen through the lens of gratitude, the human body is not only a wondrous creation, it is also a gift.

Use visual memory aids. The two main obstacles to gratitude are forgetfulness and lack of thoughtful awareness.

Make a commitment to express gratitude. Research shows that a commitment to do something increases the likelihood that that action will be carried out.

Language and meaning-making. Grateful people have a special linguistic style that speaks the language of gifts, blessings, happiness and abundance. This can fuel the awareness of others. In gratitude, don’t focus on how inherently good you are, but rather on the inherently meaningful good things others have done for you.

Sign language. Grateful behaviors include smiling and saying thank you. Grateful actions evoke feelings of gratitude.

Think outside the box. If you want to take full advantage of opportunities to practice your application and experience of gratitude, you must creatively seek out new situations and circumstances.

It is not just promoting the virtue of humility/modesty, but also reducing or eliminating the influence of any arrogant pride or narcissism. Along with the challenge of learning new behaviors, you also have to wean off previous behaviors. There may be relapse. Repetition of the new behavior then becomes especially helpful. After a while, the process of conflict resolution starts to favor the new behavior.

Ways to combat vice:

  • – Practice looking more at yourself (personal growth, self-improvement). Narcissism: getting a grip on feelings with help from friends/partners.
  • – Avoid defensive attitude, judgment, dominance and status enhancement.
  • – Contain self-aggrandizement through perspective change.
  • – Self-transcendence necessary condition for self-love.
  • – Remove indifference to others. Through more self-transcendence (e.g., religion), better relationships with others, more justice, compassion and forgiveness.
  • – Develop self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth, self-love and love for others.
  • – A sense of justice and respect for the rights of others is corrective to arrogant individuals.
  • – Establishing warm, close relationships for softening feelings of superiority and developing empathy and possibly love.
  • – Elementary sympathy comes with self-transcendence; personal love.
  • – Not bragging, not overdoing things, not trying to attract attention, not seeing yourself as more special or important than others.


The database is for further study and reference and contains all kinds of data, including books, articles, films/videos, music, songs and proverbs.

More titles and extracts from publications can be found on the virtue.net website.

  • – Armenta, Christina N. & Sonja Lyubomirsky. How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People. May 23, 2017
  • – Aurelius, Marcus Antoninus. Reflections. 2006 – Ars Floreat Foundation – www.arsfloreat.nl
  • – Brown, Lachlan. Osho explains how to practice meditation. https://hackspirit.com.  July 19, 2017, 5:55 am
  • – Brown, Lachlan. How to love yourself: 15 steps to believing in yourself again. Dec. 5, 201 https://hackspirit.com
  • – Brown, Ellen de. ‘Humility – the mother of all virtues’, Volkskrant January 4, 2014. Refers to two American psychologists who address five characteristics of humility. Original article in Social and Personality Psychology Compass (December 2013).
  • – Brummelman, Eddie. Admire me! Surviving in a narcissistic world’. 2019
  • – Charles, Jeffrey. Humility: Development and analysis of a scale. A Dissertation Presented for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree. Elliott University of Tennessee, jelliot5@utk.edu August 2010
  • – Clear, James. Atomic Habits. 2018
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