Life's Lessons Learned

Dallin H. Oaks

I have had to learn two lessons about humility: first, what it is, and second, how to seek it and keep it.Humility is essentially a consciousness of one’s personal inadequacies. It is therefore a catalyst for learning. It is the opposite of pride. My favorite illustration of this truth is Benjamin Franklin’s journal description of his attempt to overcome his natural tendency toward pride by acquiring the virtue of humility. After considerable efforts he concluded that “there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride.” For, he continued, “even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”If we are meek and humble enough to receive correction and counsel, we can be guided to put our strengths in perspective and use them for the benefit of others rather than the prideful aggrandizement of self. “Be thou humble,” the lord has said, “and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers”As for the practice of humility as the natural offset to pride, I have had different challenges at different times of my life.When I was a teenager, I saw things around me mostly in terms of what they meant to me personally. I thought it was all about me, to use an apt description I learned later. I viewed school events, athletics and other activities, and family and Church responsibilities mostly in terms of what they meant to me personally. I desired to be complimented. As I have read things I wrote at that time – now more than sixty years ago – I realized that I had a selfish view of myself in the world and very little humility.Humility can be learned, and marriage and children are great teachers. Church callings are too. As a young adult, I began to see others and the world around me in terms of what I could give rather than what I could get. Selfishness receded and humility took root.As a student and as a university teacher, I experienced the fact that the process of education – especially at the college and graduate level – impresses one with all one does not know, and that encourages humility. But the acquisition of knowledge and its certification (degrees and so on) bring recognition and feelings of self-sufficiency that soon work against the humility by which they were acquired. A powerful scripture describes the result:“When they are learned they thing they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and profiteth them not”I have been profoundly influenced by that teaching and also comforted by the next verse: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsel of God”

“I therefore warn you to cultivate great humility; for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up; beware, lest your affections be captivated by worldly objects”

Each of us has personal strengths that can detract from our humility. If we engage in self-congratulation over those strengths, we lose the protection of humility and are vulnerable to Satan’s using our strengths to produce our downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable we can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all our other strengths for righteousness.

“We must be watchful to prevent pride in our educational accomplishments, our professional positions, or other personal strengths from weakening the humility we need to continue learning and progressing”