The Secret of Eliminating Unnecessary Pain

Sometimes, pain is necessary: Mothers endure the pain of childbirth to have children, athletes endure the pain of training to win races.
Entrepreneurs endure the pain of failure to have a chance at success.

But unnecessary pain is never good. There’s no reason to seek pain for its own sake.

Yet we do it frequently. Unintentionally.

Because of a little something called pride.

Alexander the…Pained?

In the 300s BC, a young man named Alexander became king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon at the ripe old age of 20.

Alexander had every early advantage for becoming a leader: he was tutored by Aristotle, and his father, Philip II, was a powerful and successful warrior.

Alexander showed great potential when he was young: at age 10, he tamed a horse no one else could manage, and by 16, he had quelled a revolt and founded his own city — which he named after himself.

At age 20, Alexander became king after his father was assassinated, and quickly began to dominate Asia Minor, piece by piece.

But Alexander “the Great” was proud. Very proud.

Legend has it that Alexander’s mother Olympias told him he was not really Philip’s son at all, but rather the son of the king of the Greek gods: Zeus himself.

And by the end of his life, Alexander really believed he was a god.

When an old friend named Cleitus tried to warn him of his increasing hubris, Alexander slaughtered him in a rage. Later, Alexander developed a severe and painful illness and died when he was only 32.

Like the story of the biblical Herod who was struck down when he had the audacity to accept his subjects’ worship as a god, Alexander too was cut down in the prime of his life not long after declaring himself a god.

Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe not.

wikimedia commons

Pride → Pain

Have you ever stewed over an insult, snapping at innocent bystanders who get in your way? Have you ever been upset at being passed over for a promotion or prize and wondered why other, lesser beings managed to steal from you the reward you deserve?

If so, you’ve been a victim of pride.

Pride causes us to be overly sensitive to insults and injuries. It decreases our emotional pain tolerance and makes us fragile and weak — easily hurt, easily upset.

But there is one effective strategy we can use to avoid the majority of the emotional pain we inflict on ourselves:

Humbling ourselves.

Learning from Lincoln

The problem is that some people mistake humility for obsequiousness. But true humility, as we shall see, does not indicate a lack of courage or confidence.

Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest presidents in America.

During his brief time in office, he helped to abolish slavery, led the Union to victory during a bloody and terrible Civil War, and lay the foundation for Reconstruction.

Born in a simple log cabin, Lincoln once wrote:

“I was born and have ever remaind [sic] in the most humble walks of life.”

Despite being poor and self-taught, Lincoln was brave and confident in his own abilities.

For instance, before his presidency, Lincoln started to lose interest in politics because he was tired of the lack of integrity he saw among his fellow politicians.

But when the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed in 1854, allowing slavery in the western territories, Lincoln decided to return to politics, knowing that he had the ability to become president and do something about this travesty.

Yet Lincoln’s confidence was not the same as arrogance.

When Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton repeatedly insulted Lincoln (even calling him a “baboon” — !!), the president remained completely unruffled, and had nothing but kind praises for his cantankerous Secretary.

Lincoln saw past Stanton’s verbal abuse and hired him for one of the most powerful positions in the country — in spite of Stanton’s personal dislike of Lincoln.

And by the time of Lincoln’s death, he had completely won over his former critic: After Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton would visit Lincoln’s oldest son and weep for days.

Once his bitter antagonist, Stanton became Lincoln’s most devoted friend. All because he saw Lincoln’s greatness in his humility.

wikimedia commons

What is humility?

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what humility is. But we should.

It’s been said:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

In other words, you spend more time and energy thinking about everything and everyone BUT yourself.

This does not mean you ignore necessary life-sustaining self-care (you still need to eat and sleep and all of that to live), but beyond that, you generally place others before yourself — you consider their needs, and strive for their good.

Common misconceptions about humility

The problem is that some people mistake humility for obsequiousness. True humility

Humble people are not doormats

A humble person doesn’t necessarily let others do whatever they want to them. Humble people still maintain healthy, reasonable boundaries. They don’t lose their personality, sense of self, or responsibility for their actions.

Humble people are not pushovers.

Humble people don’t think poorly of themselves

In a way, thinking poorly of yourself is actually a form of pride. It indicates that you’re thinking of yourself too much, and after all, a hallmark of humility is thinking of self less.

Proud people often feel poorly about themselves since they assume that, deep down, they are better than others. When reality does not reflect this assumption, proud people grow cynical, discouraged, and depressed.

On the other hand, humble people don’t care about being or appearing brilliant and successful. They don’t spend much time thinking of themselves at all, either positively or negatively — they’re too busy thinking of others.

It takes courage to be humble

During World War II, a conscientious objector named Desmond Doss served as a military medic.

Doss was bullied by his fellow soldiers and superiors for his faith and his pacifist beliefs. But instead of trading insult for insult, Doss suffered quietly through training, then single-handedly rescued over 75 men under live enemy fire in battle.

For this and other acts of bravery, Doss was awarded the Bronze Star and the Medal of Honor — the only conscientious objector to be so honored.

Desmond Doss’s humility helped him to bear insults, forgive his tormentors, and save the lives of those who hurt him. It gave him the strength to suppress his own self-preservation instincts in order to rescue others.

That is true humility.

Desmond Doss receiving the Medal of Honor, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Why humble yourself?

So others won’t have to.

Being knocked off a pedestal hurts. But if you don’t put yourself on a pedestal, no one can knock you off.

Jesus told his listeners not to seek the highest seat at a banquet becauase it’s better to sit at the end of the table and be asked to move up, than to steal a spot at the head of the table and be humiliated in front of everyone when you are asked to step down.

Don’t put yourself in a head-of-the-table kind of situation— because if you do, somebody is bound to come along and put you in your place.

Practice humility

Knowing about the benefits of humility is different from being humble. True humility requires a little practice,

1. Don’t talk too much

A wise man once said: “When words are many, sin is not absent.” He also added that the tongue is “set on fire by hell.”

That’s pretty strong language.

But it’s a pretty serious truth.

There are many things we don’t need to say. If you spend more time listening than talking, you will not just appear, but actually become more humble, because true listening forces you to focus on others’ needs, reducing your preoccupation with yourself.

2. Confide in someone else

When speaking with trusted friends, practice being vulnerable, especially about the not-so-admirable aspects of your character. When you vocalize your faults, you are less likely to delude yourself into thinking they’re not there.

Moreover, your friends can encourage you, and maybe your courage and humility will allow them to share their own stories. When we are open and accepting with each other, pride has nowhere to hide and grow.

3. Spend time with humble people

You learn from the people you spend the most time with. So spend time with friends who are not self-serving, and read about people who live the kind of humble, courageous life you want.

In time, you’ll probably find yourself imitating those people, without conscious effort.

4. Develop a healthy sense of fear

Pride is a sneaky. When you think you are humble, you are in the most danger of NOT being humble.

So be on guard, and be afraid. Pride IS something you ought to be afraid of, considering how much damage it can do to you.

This is a constant practice, because we humans are all proud. It sucks, but it’s true. You’ll have to develop the discipline of detecting and eradicating pride as soon as it pops up, the way gardeners protect their plants from weeds.

But it’ll be worth it.

5. Pray for help!

There are two reasons for this:

  1. If you are constantly focused on God through prayer, you won’t have enough mental space to develop a swelled head.
  2. There are times when we just don’t WANT to be humble. Praying can help you step outside of yourself in these situations. (In fact, pray BEFORE you get into those situations). Prayer has a way of keeping us grounded.

There’s a reason why they say “Pride goes before a fall”

Unfortunately, most of us have to experience the bitterness of a pride-induced fall before we fully understand what this means.

Jesus, a guy who epitomized humility, once said: “Anyone who wants to be first must be last, and the servant of all.” Then he demonstrated this concept in real time by washing his students’ feet.

Sure, we’ve all heard of famous, proud people who were outwardly successful. But they did not lead happy lives, nor did they make a positive impact on society. And most of them suffered ignominious ends.

Those who are the most successful and admired in the LONG RUN are usually those who voluntarily humbled themselves and refused power, prestige, and pride when it was offered to them.

So, learn from those who have gone before you. Learn from your own mistakes. Don’t let pride cause you any more unnecessary pain.

Humble yourself, and be happy.

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The stories of Alexander the Great and Abraham Lincoln (and many others) can be found in Pat Williams’ book: Humility. You can get a copy of the book HERE (affiliate link)