“Yours humbly,” is a way to tame the ego

Though humility conjures an image of fearfulness, weakness and submissiveness, humility is not timidity. It is a sign of strength, confidence and courage. It is not false modesty. Truthful acknowledgement of what you have accomplished is also humility. Humility is self-awareness and self-assessment. To be really humble, we need to be completely honest with ourselves. Too much self-centredness moves us away from humility. An enlarged ego makes it hard to see the way forward.

A humble is not concerned about his status or worth but is aware of his status and worth. A humble knows that he possesses virtue but is careful not to flaunt it. Intellectual humility is needed for intellectual success.

Robert Roberts writes about a professor who would sometimes criticise claims that he himself had made, say in an earlier lecture. He may often have not known how to make the transition logically. The professor seemed to be unconcerned about protecting his status, because he was so deeply concerned with getting at the truth about truth. His love of knowledge was much more than his concern for status, and that was his intellectual humility is. One of the requirements of intellectual humility is knowledge about one’s own biases, prejudices and ignorance.

Intellectually arrogant people often fall prey to their own biases and prejudices. They become the victims of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness or conceit. For example, an intellectually arrogant scientist may think that he has acquired “a special way of looking at science which must be right”. Subramanyan Chandrasekhar writes, “But science doesn’t permit that. Nature has shown over and over again that the kinds of truth that underlie nature transcend the most powerful minds.”