Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Over the past few weeks I have been reading John Dickson’s book Humilitas. It’s a great read. John has a way of writing that I greatly appreciate. He is consistently able to take complex ideas and make them assessable to everyone.

The definition of humility that John proposes is:

"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself."
Or it is a "willingness to hold power in service of others."

I think this is a great definition (it’s on our fridge) and his thesis is well supported with illustrations and arguments taken from classical history, the bible, contemporary leadership and personal reflections.

I particularly like the way the book spells out some of the practical implications of embracing humility and does not leave us with only a conceptual framework. Humility generates abilities; develops character and influence; inspires others and is better than tolerance. The final chapter lists some steps to growing in humility.

1. We are shaped by what we love.
2. Reflect on the lives of humble.
3. Conduct thought experiments to enhance humility.
4. Act humbly.
5. Invite criticism.
6. Forget about being humble.

The book has some very useful insights but I do wonder about some things.
  1. In my view he would have been better to stay away from personal examples that illustrate humility but promote the authors status. For example the meeting with U2 at age 16, does illustrate Bono’s humility but also promotes the authors status.
  2. It is clear from the outset that John has a wide audience in mind as he writes both for both a secular and Christian readership. This is fantastic but I disagree with his suggestion that he should or is able to approach the discussion about Jesus’ humility from a position of neutrality as a historian. I would prefer Tim Keller’s approach (in the Reason for God, DVDs). Keller’s approach is that we all come to look at Jesus with a bias, acknowledging this bias is fundamental to understanding who Jesus is and how he shapes(our) history.
  3. With the discussion about honour and shame it is intriguing that there is little recognition of the Asian cultural issues around honour, shame and humility.
  4. I love the steps to humility but I would have liked to see more discussion around the link between God's grace and and the steps to humility.
I recommend Humilitas it is a great read. I read it in e-book format which I found well worth the price. Just wondering what you think?

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