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Humility the secret weapon for relationships


I have added this picture of a drop of water to illustrate this topic. At first sight we think what can a simple drop of water accomplish? It is not a mighty torrent or a raging river or even a tidal wave and yet it is the simple drop of water, often hidden under rocks or gently falling from leaves in a forest that brings life. It does so without fanfare or boasting it just nourishes all life.


One of the issues I see regularly in my practice in what can best be described as a lack of humility. We want to be right in fact we insist upon it. We feel that if we don't stand our ground and insist on what we think we have somehow lost. I have seen this countless of times when I do couples counselling. One party is wrong and the couple at times wishes for me as a therapist to pronounce judgement on the wronged party.

Typically sessions like this are heated and there is no satisfactory answer for anyone.


St Benedict was the founder of the Benedictines and was famous among other things for his famous monastic Rule. While it was written for monks it has tremendous wisdom for all of us in particular for those of us who live and work with other people. If you are a reclusive hermit, this need not apply.


While St. Benedict has 12 steps in this blog I am going to focus on one which I think is pertinent for today and that is the rule of self denial in thought, in word and in deed.


Self Denial in Thought


We have all known people who want to live by their own rules and believe they are being true to themselves. In a relationship this is disastrous as it typically means one of the partners does things without regard to the other and to the detriment of the couple in the guise of 'being true to themselves'. It is often a thinly veiled excuse for selfishness. Thus if in a relationship our partner wishes to do something which they cherish or even a friend, we haughtily announce that we need to be true to who we are, we don't enjoy the activity or the discussion and so we claim we are true to ourselves.

We plant our stake in what we believe is solid ground but the problem is we do not know who we are. We have succeeded in hurting the other person. I think and therefore I am is not a very good rule of life!


Self Denial in word


Essentially this means that at times even though we have heard the same story a million times, or once again our partner is repeating themselves rather than interupt or interject or even say "I have heard that old song from my cradle" we have the grace and humility to listen. To refrain. In relationships it is very important to realize that when people repeat it is because they feel unheard or unappreciated. Your saying "I have heard it before" serves to reinforce their feelings of being not valued.


Self Denial in deed


At times we feel our friends are too slow to act. We can fix the bicycle faster or we can prepare a really good meal. We can essentially outshine theme in the interest of efficiency. I see this in families where children wish to 'help' with meal preparations. The helping generally means that everything takes much longer as the children are fascinated by things that we take for granted such as breaking eggs. It is all too common for a frustrated parent to simply take over relegating the four year old with a spoon in the corner. Unfortunately this behaviour translates often in our intimate relationships, or workplaces or parishes. How often have you seen one or two people on committees who really don't want anyone else to assist but rather bustle and pride themselves on their work. It is better to step away and let others even if we know we are far more competent or have a better understanding. Charity and humility in a relationship goes a long way in enabling the other to feel loved and heard


Apology and taking stock of the day


In any friendship or relationship it is critical that we become aware of the small things that may or may not cause offence. For example if I am in a line up at a gathering and I am slow because I am picking out the carrots etc that I want and holding others up. I need to apologize.

In friendships were we impatient? Were we intolerant? Did we make a remark about the food that was offered to us? It is important to apologize not just for general things but to be specific. And equally important for the other to accept our apology

This will enable a relationship to grow as we become far more sensitive to our own reactions and the way in which we interact. It will endear our friends to us as they will understand that we do not take them for granted but that we in fact love them. This is a practice that more traditional monastic communities practice where one kneels before the one we offended and ask for forgiveness. It is very humbling and because it is humbling it makes us more away of our duty one to the other.


Like the drop of water, none of these techniques are difficult or even magnificent rather they are small sacrificial acts of humility however the results will be that not only will we grow in virtue but our relationships will be based more solidly in love.






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