In 1919 a team of researchers led by Sir Arthur Eddington conducted a famous experiment to measure the precise location of stars surrounding the sun during an eclipse. To the shock of scientists everywhere, Eddington’s results confirmed a phenomenon that Albert Einstein had predicted four years earlier – that the light from stars would “bend” as it passed by the sun, thus shifting the position of the stars ever so slightly. To most, this was confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, which physicists previously believed to be impossible. Almost overnight, the realization that light could indeed be bent made Einstein a worldwide celebrity and changed the course of physics forever.
But what does the theory of relativity and bending light have to do with leading our lives in a more excellent way? This awesome phenomenon of physics shows that every time we intentionally bend the light of attention, applause and approval away from ourselves and allow it to reflect upon other people, we create conditions for them to not only bask in its glow, but more importantly, we encourage them by our positive example to stretch and grow into the best version of themselves. Quite simply, I believe bending light can serve as a wonderful metaphor for humility—an antidote for pride.
**Humility in Action**
Humility is derived from the Latin word “humilis,” which translates as low or lowly. A humble person is not interested in presenting themselves as better than they actually are. Instead, they are content with finding self-worth in their intrinsic value and in their connections with others. As the wise Sir William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury once wrote, to practice humility “does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”
Researchers confirm that to put humility into practice is to possess an accurate sense of one’s abilities; to have an openness to new ideas; to appreciate the many different ways that people and things contribute to our world; as well as the ability to acknowledge one’s mistakes, imperfections, gaps in knowledge, and limitations. In other words, to be humble is to be free of thinking about ourselves so we can focus on what matters most—serving others.
Admittedly, overcoming a favorable bias toward self is no easy task. Especially given the fact we live in a world where leaders are expected to continuously be in the spotlight. After all, if you’re the boss, it comes with the territory. You’ve climbed the ladder and now it’s time to savor the scene from the top of the organizational pyramid. You’ve earned it, right?
It’s time we bring a stop to this flawed way of thinking.
The most effective leaders I’ve ever encountered are those who were not slaves to the spotlight. They are content to willfully surrender any desire for recognition, comfort or control and strive to selflessly serve those placed in their care. So be it as a parent at home, a worker at the office, a lay person in your church, or as a government official serving your community, choose to make humility a hallmark of your approach to leadership. I promise you that it will pay dividends for generations to come.