When greatness and humility meet

Expressions of arrogance and pride are distasteful, almost comical.
Expressions of humility and modesty are attractive and honorable.

I am deeply moved by people who are both great and humble.

    • I have a friend who is President of a private bank. When he introduces himself in public he says, “My name is _______ and I work at _____ bank.” (He never mentions that he is president of the bank.)
    • I have a friend who was president of a major university. When he speaks of that time in his life he says, “For several years I served on the leadership team at ___________.” (He never says that he was president.)
    • I have a friend I knew for four years before I discovered he has a Ph.D. in geology from a major research university.
    • When asked about his profession, my son-in-law says he works in the healthcare industry, not that he’s CMO of a leading hospital in America.

These men and women are exceptional in their character, credentials, and experiences. They have accomplished a lot in life. But it takes time to discover their depth, because they are  humble. They have a lot more behind the counter than they put out on the shelf.

How about you? Are you eager to tell people what and who you know? When meeting people for the first time, do you quickly try to impress them with your credentials and experiences, or is your discloser slower and more subtle? Do you overstate or understate your strengths and assets? Do you hide your weaknesses and failures, or do you acknowledge them as a natural part of your life’s narrative?

I love the following story because it is utterly fascinating and, the protagonist exemplifies what I’m advocating in this essay.

The 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat proffered a theorem that became the Holy Grail of math problems for the next 350 years: prove there are no whole-number solutions for this equation: xn + yn = zn for n greater than 2. Some mathematicians spent their entire lives trying to solve the problem; many thought it was impossible.

On June 23, 1993, Andrew Wiles—a quiet, unassuming professor of mathematics at Princeton University—stood before his peers at a conference in Cambridge and for several hours scribbled math equations on the chalkboard. Finally, he said, “I think I’ll stop here,” and put down the chalk. He had solved Fermat’s Enigma. With little fanfare, he had deciphered one of the most complicated problems in mathematics and then simply said, “I think I’ll stop here.”

He was understated and humble. Let’s follow his example.

8 Replies to “When greatness and humility meet”

  1. Don, at Union Church in Guatemala City the US Ambassador to Guatemala (John Gordon Mein) would introduce himself by saying “I work at the Embassy.”

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