The True Charisma: Humility
by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Humility is not an inferiority complex. It’s doing the right thing and not being dependent on the opinion of others.
A movie star enters the party: strutting, cocky, head raised. His manner shouts: “I’m great and we all know it.” The room is silent with awe. Charisma!
Judaism calls this counterfeit charisma. The movie star is totally dependent on external factors over which he has no control. Without the adoring fans, he has nothing.
Way #7 teaches that the path to genuine charisma is B’anava – “with humility.”
Does humility really generate charisma? Don’t we usually imagine the humble person as meek, hunched over, and barely noticeable?
Let’s define our terms. Humility is not an inferiority complex or lack of self-esteem. Humility means “living with the reality that nothing matters except doing the right thing.” The humble person is totally dedicated to the pursuit of truth. And because his self-esteem is not dependent on approval from others, he can choose the right thing even when it’s not popular or politically correct.
An arrogant person, on the other hand, is mostly concerned with his own ego, his own pride, his own money. So even though he appears friendly and charming, he’s really manipulating things to suit his selfish needs.
“Arrogance” = I’m all that counts.
“Humility” = What’s greater than me counts.
TRANSCENDING THE PETTINESS
Despite his smooth exterior, the arrogant person is, ironically, restrained and inhibited from expressing his true self. How can he “be himself” when he is constantly preoccupied with how he appears in the eyes of others?
Humility is freedom. When you are only concerned about truth, and living by it, then you are free to express yourself in the most genuine and uninhibited way. Your natural beauty shines through. That’s real charisma!
The Torah tells us that the most humble person of all time – Moses – was, not coincidentally, also the most charismatic. As the teacher of Torah, Moses had a quiet confidence in the justness of his cause. He could not be rattled by rebels or complaints. And that’s what earned him the greatest respect.
With such genuine self-confidence, the humble person has transcended the mundane pettiness of this world. He doesn’t have to answer every insult. He can rise above arguments.
He knows his place, and helps others find their place, too. He makes everyone feel important. Because with the humble person, if others excel, there’s no jealousy or risk of ego crisis.
Have you ever met such a person? It draws you like a magnet. Wouldn’t you like some of that charisma?
THE HUMAN NEED FOR MEANING
Because humility is predicated on the pursuit of truth, it fuels the basic human need for meaning.
We see that people are searching for meaning in life. Almost everyone wants to help the needy, the poor, the hungry and the homeless. And many people choose “helping” careers like health care and social work. Money alone is not enough pleasure to carry one through a lifetime.
Unfortunately we often get side-tracked by the mundane issues of daily life. Amidst all the errands, meetings and e-mails, we lose clarity on what is ultimately meaningful.
One way to focus is to ask yourself: “What am I living for? Am I eating to live, or living to eat? Do I work to live, or live to work?”
Every day you have to re-ask these questions. This will help to keep your job, relationships, and overall goals in perspective.
So what are you living for? Do some research. See if your “life goal” is truly meaningful, or just some abstract notion.
If you hear a voice say, “There’s no real objective purpose to life,” check out whether that’s true before you concede. Don’t give up so quickly. Don’t fall in with the cynics. Meaning is too vital to ignore. Just like food and water, your health depends on it.
DO THE RIGHT THING
Doing the right thing is often difficult, because we don’t always perceive it as providing a great source of pleasure.
If you think about it, you’ll see there is no greater pleasure.
Material pleasures are necessary and nice, but they do not compare to the higher pleasures of love and meaning. Imagine being offered 10 million dollars in exchange for one of your children. After rejecting the offer, you’ll be overwhelmed with the precious value of that child! You may have always known his worth on an intellectual level, but now it becomes real to you.
Similarly, if you were given the choice of killing 1,000 innocent children, or being killed yourself, you know what you’d choose.
Even though this scenario is extreme, it reveals something deep in the psyche of every human being: Being good is so important that we’re even willing to die for it.
WHAT IS YOUR CAUSE?
Now let’s take this a step further. If you are willing to die in order to be “good,” the corollary is that there is no higher goal in living than being good!
Ultimately, everyone is dying for a cause. World peace, save the whales, political reform, everyone is dedicated to something. The only question that remains, therefore, is “what is your cause?”
Sit down and figure out what you’re willing to die for. Read eulogies. They’re a good dose of humility. They help us understand the meaning of life. Try writing your own obituary. For what do you want to be remembered? This gives you objectivity and perspective.
Once you’ve found a cause so meaningful that you’d forfeit your life for it, then you have the answer to the more important question: What you should be living for.
And when you indeed live for that cause, you will have unparalleled power, purpose and pleasure.
Now make a plan to implement this into your day-to-day life. Start slowly, taking one small step at a time, so not to be overwhelmed. Keep your eye on the goal and gauge your progress every day.
Connecting with your ultimate purpose is a big project. But there’s no better use of your time and energy.
Are you up to the challenge?
DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASON
“Doing the right thing” is a high level, but there’s a higher level still. You also have to do the right thing for the right reason – i.e. “because it’s the right thing to do.” If you do the right thing for selfish reasons – e.g., so you can brag about your accomplishments – you’ll end up feeling lousy about yourself.
The story is told of a great rabbi, on his death bed, praying with great intensity. His students were gathered around and asked, “Rabbi, what are you thinking at this moment?”
Answered the rabbi: “A little voice inside me is saying, ‘Pray with great intensity so your students will be impressed.” Even at the moment of death, this great sage was battling his ego!
True charisma comes when we disengage ourselves from the need for outside approval. So do the right thing for the right reason. No matter what the consequences may be. It’s the greatest feeling in the world!
GOD: THE ULTIMATE IN MEANING
In the pursuit of meaningful achievement, what makes a person more impactful – acting according to a subjective opinion (which can change at any moment), or according to an outside objective standard? Obviously it is more meaningful to fulfill what is objectively right.
Judaism says that in order to discover true meaning, we have to be in touch with what the Creator wants. Because God, being outside the bounds of human ego and partisanism, is the source of objectivity. In essence, He defines what is “good.”
Objectivity and humility are linked ideas. Objectivity gives us the ability to rise above selfish desires and do the right thing, for the right reasons. That leads to humility.
Moses was called “the most humble” because he stood before God with the utmost respect. With awe. Moses knew his place. Anything else precludes room for God to fit in. That’s why the Talmud likens arrogance to idol worship; both push away the presence of God.
In any situation, ask yourself: “What would God want?” Do what He says, and you’ll always be doing the right thing.
OPEN UP TO WISDOM
Use humility to open yourself up to wisdom. Without humility we can’t hear wisdom, because we are too stuck in our own subjective reality.
The Sages ask a fundamental question: Why was the Torah given in a desert? Because a desert is empty. What this means is that to acquire Torah – to receive God’s wisdom – we must first be willing to open up space inside.
One way to attain more objectivity is to give someone else advice. Dealing with external issues will help you see your own situation more clearly.
The bottom line: The more you rise above the need for others’ approval, and develop your inner sense of self-esteem, the more charisma you will possess. And that’s something no one can ever take away from you.
WHY IS “HUMILITY” AN INGREDIENT IN WISDOM?
Humility generates truth and objectivity.
Humility is freedom. Your personality expresses itself in an organic, internally generated, and more real way.
Humility is pleasure. Arrogance is pain.
Humility enables you to embrace others.
Humility deepens your relationship with God.
Until you know what you are willing to die for, you have not yet begun to live.
Update (February 9, 2009): Rabbi Noah Weinberg died February 5, 2009, at his home in Jerusalem. He was 78.
About the author: Rabbi Noah Weinberg is a graduate of the American yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin (Brooklyn, New York) and Ner Yisrael (Baltimore, Maryland), and dean and founder of the educational organization Aish HaTorah International, based in Jerusalem.
Reprinted with kindly permission of Aish HaTorah International.