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Underbelly: 10 Things - Humility

Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly
#91 in a series of wild and precious things to help you cultivate humility.

  1. TWIL (This Week I Learned)
This week I learned about cultivating humility. I began a course called “Cultivating Humility” taught by Marla Estes of Building Bridgers and shame researcher and psychoanalyst Joseph Burgo.
Marla shared a story from parenting, where she yelled at her child over math homework. She realized she was yelling because of unresolved shame over her own inability in math, then gave herself a timeout, took a shower, and, as she said, ended up keening there, understanding the shame and processing it.
She then worked to move from humiliation to humility and apologized to her son, decided they’d be better off getting a good night’s sleep and tackling the homework in the morning, and as she says, that was the moment she began this work (I may be mangling a couple of her stories — I wish I had taken better notes!)
That moving from humiliation to humility is what stuck with me throughout the rest of the course.
I learned, as usual, that things are ultimately simple and way more complicated than I could ever have imagined.
Simple: Just override our biology and be humble and kind :)
Example of complicated: Even Oxytocin, the “love” hormone, isn’t innocent — one of its functions is to keep us in “in groups” and “out groups” — in other words, it helps us feel love and warmth and connectedness to those in our “in group” and divide us from our “out group” (from Robert Sapolsky, “Are Humans Hardwired to Be Cruel to Each Other?”)
2. Quote
“Viktor Frankl said "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Humility gives us the capability and capacity to step into that space.“ — Marla Estes
"My understanding of shame also differs from Brené Brown and John Bradshaw’s in one other way. Brown takes pain to distinguish shame (bad) from guilt (good) whereas I see them as part of the same family of emotions. Bradshaw famously held that guilt is about what you do, shame is about who you are, but I don’t think it’s so simple. I subscribe to Silvan Tompkins’ affect theory which holds that shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, self-consciousness, mortification, etc. all share a common physiological response pattern: gaze aversion, blushing of the neck or face, and a wish to disappear. The facial sensations are a central experience in shame and it’s reflected our language – we often talk of shame as “losing face,” for example.
As with so many mental health issues these days, it useful to understand shame as occurring along a spectrum. Emotions in the shame family may be weak or strong. They may be about a specific act or trait, or instead arise from something more pervasive. They may be brief or last a lifetime. The common denominator for all these emotions is what Tompkins calls a “painful awareness of self.” Pride would be the opposite – a pleasurable awareness of self.” — Joseph Burgo
3. Prompt
Something that struck me during this week and especially during the Cultivating Humility course was the idea that we need to “override biology”
The wording is perfect. Unless we can somehow conjure small tribal communities that only interact with other tribal communities that basically agree on most cultural issues…we’re going to have to “override our biology” in order to truly understand, get along with, and love those we perceive to be in our “out group”
And considering how easy it is to trick our biology into thinking people are in our out group (cf. the genius workings of what passes for “news” these last few years) we may want to work at learning how to override that biology — find that space between stimulus and response and cultivate humility to step into that space to choose our response, rather than always relying on our biology to tell us how to feel and what to do.
(This prompt is modified from the course and the work of Joseph Burgo and Marla Estes)
Joseph Burgo says to start with our defenses…what are those lies we tell ourselves to avoid pain? (Wilfred Bion)
The work of therapy is often around helping us to be able to safely look at these lies we have been telling ourselves so that we can process the truth and grow.
So - knowing that, gently ponder a time when you argued with someone and … as most of us do, you used words like “always” or “never” as in: Why do you always do that? I would never do that! Why don’t you ever listen to me?
As in: I am the hero and you are the villain; I am 100% right and you are 100% wrong…
Try recalling a difficult argument and reconsider it from a more humble point of view — one where there are no heroes, there are no villains, where it’s possible that you don’t know enough, where you are unsure.
4. Quest
Become a scientist this week:
Get comfortable this week with the idea that “I err, therefore I am human.” (from 12 Angry Men) and the idea of the working hypothesis — developing poise so that you can change your mind in light of new information or insight.
Even consider a goal of changing your mind in one small area — just to practice this valuable skill.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
As you walk through your week, perhaps try this extremely vulnerable stance of being not only open to changing your mind, but cultivating opportunities to change your mind — not changing someone else’s mind.
6. Video
Are Humans Hardwired to Be Cruel to Each Other? | Robert Sapolsky / Big Think
Are Humans Hardwired to Be Cruel to Each Other? | Robert Sapolsky / Big Think
7. Podcast (this podcast happened to be my favourite this week and I considered it lifechanging)
‎Under The Skin with Russell Brand: #198 The Matter with Things (with Iain McGilchrist) on Apple Podcasts
8. Poem
9. Hero — My hero this week was meeting Marla Estes in my Cultivating Humility course. Her work is so important and her humble courage welcome.
Marla Estes – The School of The Examined Life – Ashland Oregon LocalsGuide
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Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly @wendykkelly

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