“They are proud in humility; proud in that they are not proud.” ~ Robert Burton
Being around a prideful person is challenging enough. Listening to someone brag, boast and endlessly promote themselves can be exhausting.
But for me, there is an even more difficult soul for people to endure.
A person who projects a false humility.
Such an individual is egregious because they put a lot of energy into shrouding their pride.
I would have to agree with this sentiment shared by Brandon Mull:
“False humility is more insulting than open pride!”
It can be even scarier if such a person is in a role of leadership.
What makes dealing with such a person so hard is the fact that they work really hard at making themselves impervious to criticism or correction.
I mean, how can you disagree with such a humble, yet high-minded person?
A big problem with false humility is this:
“False humility is often a false front we employ to gain power over others.” (François de La Rochefoucauld)
Throughout scripture we are called on to pursue humility.
But it must be a true humility. Not thinking more of ourselves. Not thinking too low of ourselves. Simply thinking realistically about ourselves.
A few years ago I came across this list and saved it:
Fifteen Signs of False Humility:
1. Uses Religious Terms to Justify Cruel or Questionable Behavior. But a humble person refuses to use spiritual-sounding words as a smokescreen for sin.
2. Preoccupied with Self. But a humble person is as actively interested in others as in himself.
3. Listens to Others Only in Order to Speak into their Life. But a humble person listens to others with loving interest and with an expectation to learn and grow.
4. Admits Small Sins but Ignores Major Sins (Image Control). But a humble person admits sin and also receives an honest rebuke no matter how lowly the source.
5. Inability to Laugh at One’s Self When Others Do the Joking. But a humble person sees the humor in his own paradox of sin and sanctification. He can laugh at his own expense, because he knows that his worth is based not on impressing people but rather in the reality of being loved by God.
6. Publicizes Her Own Sacrifices to Impress Others. But a humble person avoids broadcasting her sacrificial labor.
7. Uses Himself as the Standard for Others’ Performance. But a humble person looks at the life of Jesus as the example, and points people to him.
8. Affects a Humble Tone of Voice While Saying Proud Things. But a humble person doesn’t need to affect his tone of voice to sound mealy-mouthed in order to convince others that he is humble.
9. Believes that Eschewing Money or Fame is the Same Thing as Being Humble. But a humble person understands that pride comes from the heart, not from possessions.
10. Professes Love for God and Neighbor but Acts in a Cruel Manner. But a humble person is consistent between what she says and what she does.
11. Delights in Debate rather than in Dialogue. But a humble person sees conversation as a two-way street with much to learn, not as a battle to win or lose.
12. Is Easily Offended. But a humble person is quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
13. Believes that Asceticism Leads to Holiness. But a humble person recognizes that sin comes from the heart, not from pleasure.
14. Loves to Impose His Opinion on Others as Truth. But a humble person acts charitably to all, thinks the best of others, and avoids presenting his opinion on a disputable matter as ultimate Truth.
15. Enjoys Judging Other People. But a humble person hands judgment over to God and instead busies herself with loving her neighbor and serving God.
Considering the list above, it seems that, even though we might call it false humility, there is actually no humility in it at all.
It’s just another form of pride.
People who operate in false humility take on the “appearance” and perform the actions characteristic of a humble person but do not believe in being humble as a heart conditioned decision.
As a result, false humility is characteristically selfish and it strives at self-preservation.
As followers of Christ, we are called to humility.
But may it be a humility that reflects the words of C.S. Lewis:
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.