Humility includes an appreciation that our perception and thoughts about others, ourselves, events, and the world are subjective and tentative.

‘Subjective’ means that others perceiving the same event can have very different interpretations of that event.  For example, we may argue with a loved one or colleague and later they report a very different experience of what they thought the argument was about.

‘Tentative’ suggests that each of us tends to change our own interpretation and perspective of the same event over time.  We ourselves may have a very different experience of a particular argument than we did 10 years ago.  We have phrases such as ‘when I was young and foolish’.  The important point is that we’re now young and foolish relative to our older, wiser selves.  Part of humility is practicing that appreciation and continually reminding ourselves that our way of seeing the world is changing over time.

In addition to the expectations we have of ourselves, others, and the world, we also frequently seem to have the ‘super-expectation’ that all of our expectations will be met.  This ‘super-expectation’ has 2 parts.  The first is the demand that the world must conform to our assumptions and expectations.  The second is the prediction that it will.  Unless we’re omniscient or omnipotent, those two aspects of our ‘super-expectation’ will often be unmet, leading to frustration, anger, anxiety, and depression.  Part of humility is acknowledging that indeed not all our assumptions about the world are true and not all our predictions will come to pass.  If that wasn’t the case, we would have little to learn.  The 10 million books in major libraries and billions of web pages on the internet are a testament of how much there is to yet learn.  Next time we’re certain about what we think is true, we can bring those visuals to mind and at least pause before starting the arguments with others and ourselves.

Wisdom Therapy’s construct of Humility also includes an awe and respect for the grand scale of events of nature.  Carl Sagan, in his book Dragons of Eden, provides perspective on the grand scale of events by contracting the history of the universe, some 20 billions years, into one cosmic year, with the big bang occurring on January 1 and us now being at the end of that year.  When did we as humans appear in that cosmic year?  At 10:30 p.m. on the last day, December 31, and all of human history has occurred during the last 10 seconds of that year.  Wisdom Therapy also incorporates a film by Charles and Ray Eames called Powers of 10, which broadens our perspective regarding the grand magnitude of space the same way the cosmic calendar does so with time. 

Another main tool developed by Dr. Robins to increase humility as part of Wisdom Therapy includes visual illusions.  We all have a certain amount of  certainty and arrogance regarding what we think and see.  It turns out the two are interconnected with sayings such as “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Visual illusions serve to shake up that arrogance and facilitate a humility regarding not only what we see, but bridging that over towards uncertainty and humility regarding what we think, expect, and believe.  That humility tends to arise in late life-span development associated with wisdom.  Visual illusions, Robins argues, facilitate that development in earlier stages.

© 2008 The Wisdom Therapy Institute