How to Teach Your Child to Be Humble

It takes a village to raise a child, an African proverb goes. But what if I do not trust the village? So I turn to the (rather sexist) Swahili alternative: whomsoever is not taught by the mother will be taught with the world.

As a new mother of one, I admit that there are times I want to resign from work and become a full-time stay-at-home mom. I would like to believe it’s not that I’m pressured by the fabulous lives of moms on YouTube and Instagram, but out of genuine concern that my child is not going to live life as close to the fullest if I let others raise them. By “the fullest” I simply mean a life where a person is free to be whoever they choose and do whatever makes them happy as long as they’re not hurting someone else. Impossible, to be honest, and I’d gladly settle with “as close to”.

But my husband’s current income is not enough so I’m still working. I’m still giving other people – our parents and a nanny – the power to dictate how Sprout’s formation goes. If things do not go according to plan, I may have to send Sierra to school. I may never get to undo the “damage” of my child not being raised according to my own principles so I can only hope that night times, weekdays, and holidays will be sufficient to teach things I wish I was taught.

And so I am teaching Sprout to be humble, because humility is the prerequisite to the pursuit of learning. Humility enables you to admit knowing little, if at all, or enough, to hopefully make you want to learn more. Humility allows you to appreciate those who share their ideas, even if those ideas may challenge or debunk yours. It allows you to test the soundness of your theories, acknowledge any weaknesses and limitations, and ratify, as necessary. To be humble opens that ever-present room for improvement.

Do not mistake confidence for arrogance. You see, refusal to be educated is arrogance. Arrogance is like a wall standing between you and learning, like blinders stopping you from seeing a bigger landscape. It prevents you from seeing the need to learn more or change for the better. It blinds you from recognizing a losing battle.

Confidence, on the other hand, comes from a level of certainty on the soundness of your conclusion. This comes after undergoing a process of testing your theories against others and accepting or rejecting them when found lacking. Confidence can only come to a humble person.

Humility, though, is not subservience. Subservience is lack of self-respect. There is no honor in blind and total obedience; it does not make someone good. To be humble means to come from a higher place; you cannot humble yourself if you are already kowtowing on the ground.

But how can I, who scored very high in shutting down ideas opposing mine in a test for fascist tendencies, teach humility? Perhaps teach is the wrong word. Perhaps facilitate is better.

I will bring Sprout to the books, to the movies, to the arts, to nature. I will help my child find people with stories to tell. I will be there, watching, listening from the sidelines. That way, I, too may learn.

Then I will allow Sprout to teach me. I will apologize for my mistakes. I will encourage being questioned. We will engage in healthy discussions and debates. I will listen not to respond, but to understand. I will respect Sprout as a human being and as an equal.

I submit to the fact that this could be the single most important battle of my life. After all, the village I distrust is around and within me. I myself was raised in it, and so jave been my ancestors. What if I fail? What if I find different to be too hard and completely abandon the idea? I hope I won’t. And what if despite my best efforts, Sprout chooses the ways of the world? Hopefully, by then, I would have learned to be humble enough to respect my child’s decisions.

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