When we talk about humility, most of us think of the kind of false humility that we have been taught to show as a politeness - the kind of so-called humility that makes us self-dismissive, self-denying, and self-deprecating. I used to be this way, too. (And confession: sometimes, I still am.) We're taught that this is how we are supposed to handle compliments. We're told that it's rude, arrogant, and abrasive if we do anything else. Others won't like us, and they'll think their compliments are misguided, if we agree with them.
Somehow, we've gotten the idea that when someone mentions something good about us, it's because they want to believe they're telling us something we don't already know. If we claim that we already know it, by doing anything other then pretending that it's not true, we are insulting the one who complimented us.
It doesn't seem to occur to us that a greater insult is to pretend they don't know what they're talking about and that they're totally wrong.
Do you realize how strange it is that we find a politeness in telling others how wrong about us they are?
Anyway, I used to be this way. Like all of us, I was taught that this is how you best handle compliments about yourself - by dismissing and denying them, with that little bit of a smile that lets everyone else know you're being a bit disingenuous. And then one day, in utter frustration as I continued to politely deny every good thing he ever said about me, a pastor friend and mentor just looked at me for a moment until he knew he had my full attention and said four words that have changed the way I engage with compliments:
"Just say thank you."
Just say thank you. Just acknowledge that someone else has said something true about you from their perspective. Embrace their acknowledgement and affirmation. Let them affirm something that God has said is true about you because He created it in you. Real humility is letting yourself settle into the fullness of who you are and letting it just be.
And if, by chance, someone affirms something in you that you don't particularly like or that you don't want to be, then their affirmation is your chance to recognize it anew and decide to do something different about it.
The thing is, you can learn all kinds of things about yourself from the compliments of others. Some things will surprise you, and some things will delight you. Some things will let you know that you're right where you wanted to be. Others might open an entirely new path that you didn't think was possible. Some might touch on a dream that you've tried to keep secret because you weren't sure if it was reasonable or not. Others can reveal to us so many things about ourselves, and this necessarily humbles us because we can never go back and be anything other than we already were. What we were in the moment that our friend, our brother, our sister, our neighbor holds so dear as to say something about it is something that is true about us. A compliment forces us to accept ourselves for that moment.
Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to deny it. Then, we don't have to accept anything.
But isn't it strange that we've spent our whole lives learning that humility is self-denial when in fact, the most humble thing we can do is accept and embrace a compliment? It's this acceptance and embrace that tells the other that we are willing to recognize ourselves, that we are willing to confess something about us, that we are willing to stand in the sometimes-awkward places of being known.
And all it takes is a thank you. That's it. Just a thank you.
So...start with that. See how it changes your heart to just say thanks. And then tell me that's not a more humbling experience than all the junk our culture has tried to teach you about it.