In today’s culture, children are often taught that they’re perfect, they’re always winners, and they can never do wrong.
Parents are constantly coddling and protecting their children’s “self-esteem.” They guard their children from any experiences of negativity, hardship, or failure. They teach their children that as long as they “be themselves” then they deserve to be rewarded for it unconditionally.
As a result, we grow up with the belief that “I deserve all the happiness and success in the world exactly as I am. And anyone that denies me this is wrong.” We have become self-centered, egotistical, and entitled. We begin to believe that we deserve everything for nothing, because we’ve never put in work to earn something ourselves.
According to The Road to Character, “self-esteem” isn’t necessarily the best force that drives good character, even though our society tends to highly emphasize it. Instead, what’s most important today is to cultivate humility and modesty.
As painful as it can be, we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations more often. We need to reinstitute the concept of a “flawed self” – a self that is hypocritical, broken, and highly prone to being wrong and making mistakes.
It’s only when we accept this “flawed self,” that we can truly embark on self improvement and the building of good character. But if we always pretend we’re perfect, and we always pretend we can do no wrong, then we will never change or grow as individuals.
Humility doesn’t always come naturally to people. If anything, we’re often wired to be over-confident in ourselves.
We think we’re smarter than we really are. We think we’re better than we really are. And we think we’re morally superior than we really are. Humility helps curb this never-ending over-confidence.
The rest of this article describes the key lessons we learn when we begin exercising more humility in our everyday lives.
The Road to Character is a humbling book by David Brooks exploring the struggles we all face living an honest, virtuous, and satisfying life. It puts a strong emphasis on how we need to start replacing our “self esteem” culture with a culture of “humility” – including the acceptance of our “flawed self.”
What Humility Teaches Us
- “I am not perfect.” – I’m not perfect, I’ve made mistakes in the past and I will make mistakes in the future. There will always be some things I want to change about myself. I’m a never-ending project.
- “I don’t know everything.” – I’m not as smart as I think I am. I often overestimate how much I know about a particular subject, and it’s important for me to accept the wisdom of ignorance.
- “My feelings don’t always serve me.” – When I accept my “flawed self,” I accept that sometimes I need to fight against my natural desires and impulses when they don’t serve my best interests. My emotions can sometimes misguide me.
- “I accept my weaknesses.” – Like everyone else, I have both strengths and weaknesses. By ignoring my weaknesses, I only make myself more susceptible to give into them and repeat them. I need to accept my weaknesses before I can begin working on them.
- “It’s okay to seek help outside myself.” – When I accept my flaws and limitations, I recognize that sometimes I need to seek help outside of myself to get past difficult times in my life. I shouldn’t feel ashamed when I need to ask other people for help or assistance.
- “I don’t need to prove myself all the time.” – When I cultivate humility, I’m less motivated to “prove myself” to others all the time. Instead I’m comfortable accepting my flaws and weaknesses, because I understand they are part of being human.
- “I play a small role in a much bigger picture.” – Life is bigger than just “me.” My life is a product of many years of evolution, culture, relationships, and tradition. To live my life fully means I acknowledge that I play a small role in a much bigger picture.
The Road to Character is a very humbling and sobering book that puts a strong emphasis on this “flawed self” concept and why it is so important in building a better life.
When you accept that you will never be perfect, then you realize that self growth and self improvement are a never-ending struggle that everyone faces. We all have limitations, crutches, and unhelpful desires and instincts. Sometimes, it’s better to “restrain” ourselves than to “express” ourselves freely without thinking twice.
In the book, David Brooks illustrates the importance of humility and this “flawed self” concept by looking at the lives of historical figures, including president Dwight Eisenhower, civil rights leaders Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, labor activist Francis Perkins, soldier and statesman George Marshall, Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo, and the legendary English writer Samuel Johnson.
In all of these examples, we see important historical figures who have struggled greatly with their own internal and external struggles. None of them are perfect, but eventually they learn to face this “flawed self” head on. And while no one fully overcomes this “flawed self,” they learn how to manage it better and do their best in spite of it. Simply choosing to fight that battle is their victory and their road to character.
The wisdom in this book applies to everyone. What are some of your own flaws and weaknesses? In what ways do you need to accept this “flawed self” more and live with more humility and understanding of yourself?
Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement: