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Fortune Favors The Humble

Updated: 4 days ago

The importance of humility, stories of humility, and my experience with humility.

Have you ever met someone who is full of themselves, who thinks that they are always right and everyone needs to listen to them? If yes, you can probably agree that no one wants to interact with an arrogant person. On the other hand, when we meet a person who is extremely humble, who wants to learn and improve themselves, we naturally want to help them.

That's why the Chinese Book of History said,

"Arrogance brings harm. Humility brings benefit."

(Original text: 满招损,谦受益。)

In the book Liao Fan's Four Lessons, Liao Fan explains:

"A humble person receives support and trust from the general public. If a person understands the virtue of humility, he is the person who also understands the importance of constant self-improvement. This constant self-improvement not only includes the search for higher knowledge, but also encompasses the need to be more humane, better performance in daily duties, and improved communication with friends."

Liao Fan praised a person for his humility, noting that this person is

  • Respectful

  • Tolerant

  • Never tries to come in first

  • Does not talk back when insulted or slandered

He predicted that this person would achieve great success due to his humility, and indeed, that person later attained wealth and prosperity as a government official.

Although we might not be 100% arrogant, we probably aren't 100% humble either. So how can we improve our humility? The Guide to Happy Life gives many concrete examples:

  1. When my parents (or anyone) call me, I should respond promptly.

  2. When my parents (or anyone) criticizes me, I should listen respectfully without arguing.

  3. When I see other people’s good points, I will learn from their goodness. When I see other people’s bad points, I will reflect on myself. If I have the same vice, I will fix it. If not, I will guard against it.

  4. Be happy when hearing criticism and afraid when hearing praise. Then good people will come and bad people will leave.

  5. Use spare time to study virtuous books. Whatever I learn, I must apply in my life.

  6. Do not be harsh on myself nor give up on myself. With dedication and training, I too can become a virtuous and noble person!

Story: Emperor Yao's Humility

Once, Emperor Yao was walking through his kingdom, when he saw two people being arrested by the police. The Emperor asked what happened. The police told him these two villagers are being arrested for stealing food.

The Emperor then asked the two villagers, “Why did you steal food?”

The villagers told him, “There hasn’t been rain for a long time, so our crops died, and we have nothing to eat.”

After hearing this, the Emperor told the police to let the two villagers go and to arrest him instead. The police were baffled and asked, “But you’re the Emperor! On what grounds can we arrest you?”

Emperor Yao replied, “It’s my fault for not teaching my citizens well. That’s why they resorted to stealing. Furthermore, my lack of virtues is related to this long drought. I have not done a good job as Emperor.”

As soon as the Emperor finished speaking, the sky turned grey, and rainfall came shortly after.

Another Story: Emperor Tang's Humility

Another role model of how humility brings fortune is Emperor Tang Taizong, who is considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. If Emperor Tang was wrongfully criticized, he still accepted the criticism with respect and said it was his fault. When others asked him why he didn't correct the criticizer, he said,

"If I make others feel bad for trying to criticize me, then people would be scared to criticize me in the future."

Emperor Tang wasn't perfect; he still got upset at hearing criticism sometimes, but he always corrected himself. He had a great advisor named Wei Zheng, who was known for providing the Emperor with straightforward and constructive feedback. One time, Emperor Tang returned from a cabinet meeting and angrily told his wife, "Sooner or later I will kill that Wei Zheng! He always contradicts me and embarrasses me in front of everyone!"

Upon hearing this, the Empress said, "A subject is only willing to present his honest opinion when the Emperor is wise and open-minded. I would like to congratulate your majesty for having a cabinet member who is not afraid to contradict you, because it is proof of your open-mindedness!"

Emperor Tang immediately calmed down and thought of Wei Zheng's integrity and moral character. He later said, "A lot of people think Wei Zheng is a direct and tactless man, but I think those are his very charms."

When Wei Zheng passed away, Emperor Tang burst into tears at his funeral. He famously said,

"Put a slab of copper as a mirror before me, and I can straighten my robe. Put history as a mirror before me, and I can identify the alarming signs of rise and fall in a dynasty. Have a man as a mirror who reflects my flaws, and I can rectify my mistakes. I constantly keep these three mirrors to prevent me from making mistakes. Now that Wei Zheng has passed away, I have lost a mirror!”

Emperor Tang also urged the people around him to be humble and to seek others' criticisms. He told his ministers,

"If you can't accept criticism yourself, how can you criticize others?"

One time, Emperor Tang saw his son lazily lying under the shade of a tree. He walked up to his son and told him, “A tree often doesn’t grow perfectly straight, but a carpenter can turn it into a straight log strong enough to support a building. A monarch who grows up in a palace cannot know everything and will certainly make mistakes. Only by modestly listening to the advice of his ministers can he correct and straighten himself up and become a worthy emperor.

Heeding his father's advice and learning from his father's example, the son later achieved even greater success as Emperor.

A Cautionary Tale: The Blind Men and The Elephant

A group of blind men were brought to inspect an elephant, and each man touched a different part of the elephant.

The first man, who ran his hands along the elephant’s trunk, said “the elephant is like a thick snake.”

The second man, who felt the ear, said the “No, the elephant resembles a big fan.”

The third man, who touched a leg, said “No, the elephant is like a pillar.”

The fourth man, who patted the elephant’s side, said “The elephant is clearly like a wall.”

The fifth man, who touched a tusk, said “I’m certain the elephant is like a spear.”

The last man, who felt the elephant’s tail, said “You’re all wrong. The elephant is just like a rope.”

Unable to come to an agreement, the men continued to argue and defend themselves, eventually even coming to physical blows.

My Experience with Humility

Humility is a virtue that speaks dearly to me because arrogance is probably my biggest vice. Previously, I spend many months reading The Guide to Happy Life every day to remind myself to practice the five virtues.

When my parents (or anyone) call me, I should respond promptly.

In the past, I often did not respond to my parents' calls right away because I was busy doing work. That means subconsciously, I view myself as higher than them, which is really quite disrespectful. Now, I am much more conscious of answering them right away. I also make sure to reply promptly even if it is a simple "Thank you for the email. I got it."

Learn from people's good points. Self-reflect on people's bad points. Listen to criticism without arguing.

I like to find the good points of others and learn from their role modeling. I don't do a good enough job reflecting others' bad points on myself. Instead, I complain a lot. For example, I complain that my mother complains about me a lot. But if I were truly humble, I would first fix my own complaining problem rather than viewing the problem to be solely my mother's. Also, if she complains about me a lot, surely I must be doing something wrong.

When I decided to be humble and patiently listen to her criticisms and reasons for worry, I realized her criticisms come from her worry, and her worry come from my lack of communication with her. She felt like I didn't care about her, and she worried that I would neglect my health, so naturally in that emotional state, she would start complaining about me. Being arrogant and defensive only made things worse. Being humble and caring solved the conflict.

Use spare time to study virtuous books. Whatever I learn, I must apply in my life.

I used to spend my free time on entertainment like video games and anime, but about a year ago I decided to avoid negative influences and only accumulate virtuous influences. So I started dedicating 100% of my free time towards learning and writing. Although I had withdrawal symptoms for the first couple of months, I persisted. My life has gotten a lot happier and better since then, and it is one of the best decisions I have made!

I also make sure I apply what I learn in my life, otherwise there is no point in learning it. That's why my articles always usually have a "My Experience" section.


A humble person is respectful, tolerant, never tries to come in first, does not talk back when insulted or slandered, and always seeks to improve oneself. Hence, humility brings us benefit, while arrogance brings us harm.

As D.L. Moody said,

"Be humble, or you'll stumble."

How can you improve your humility in your daily life?


Weekly Wisdom #171

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