Posted by: ritagone | July 6, 2011

Humility in Conversation

Perhaps my favorite lesson that I’ve taught in the last few years is one that I love because of its practicality.  I use it all the time as a mental exercise because it lends itself so well to doing so.

It’s built upon the story of Moses and the fact that, given his upbringing in the palaces of Pharaoh in Egypt, he probably met and associated with most of the top officials of his day.  By the time he reached adulthood, there wasn’t anyone he hadn’t come into contact with, including, of course, his own adopted relatives inside the palace.  And when he led his people, the Jews, out of Egypt and through the Red Sea toward the promised land, he took his role as their leader very seriously, never overreaching.

In fact, Numbers 12:3 calls him the most humble man on the face of the earth!  Imagine it. This man who hobnobbed with the equivalent of celebrities and the great politicians of his day was called humble beyond any definition of that word.


We all struggle with it.  Moses was encouraged by his father-in-law Jethro to give up some of his leadership duties to others so that the workload didn’t overwhelm him.  A proud man would have said no, wanting to keep all the glory and power to himself.  However, Moses agreed to it.  Humility.  I take it Moses didn’t regale the Israelites on cold desert nights with stories of powerful Egyptian leaders he had known and dined with.  Humility.

On the other hand, I devised four conversation clues we can use to determine whether or not we are humble in the face of talking to other people.  Why?  Because most of us will never have the metric of moving in political circles to measure whether or not we’re humble.  So we need another standard by which to judge our humility.  So here it is:  First of all, there are the story toppers and name droppers.  You know the type.  They’re always telling you who they know and how well they know them.  They always want to be the person to bring you news first.  There is some innate insecurity that pushes them to have that information first.  They can’t wait to find a break in your sentences so that they can talk about what is going on in their lives: people they know, escapades they are involved in.  Mention anything – anything at all – and they can top it with something better, richer, smarter, cleverer.

Maybe you do this.  Maybe you don’t even realize you do it.

You see, we’re all guilty of it to some extent.  Story toppers.  The prideful dislike of letting anyone else tell a story because, obviously, yours is better.  Name droppers: letting the people around us know that we are known, we are special, we move in circles to be envied, we are important.

Money  poppers are a third category of prideful people, those who like to tell us how much things cost, how expensive their possessions are, how much money they make, how wealthy they are.  In a society that values these things way too much, money poppers puff themselves up and let everyone around them know that they have significance because of what they own and because of their bank accounts.

Lastly, there are spotlight hoppers, people who – you guessed it – are always stealing the spotlight, the center of attention away from anyone and everyone else.  They just can’t stand to have anyone else be the focus, so they are constantly doing whatever it takes to get that attention back to and on themselves.

You will notice that Moses did none of these things.  You will also notice that Jesus did none of these things.  In a world where people try desperately to gain a foothold conversationally and in many other ways, showing that they are significant in their own eyes and seeking to assert that significance in the eyes of others, Jesus put Himself as far from the limelight as He possibly could.  And Moses also moved away from attention, leading with quiet strength and dignity.

Humility is a virtue we all claim that we want, but in so many conventional ways – even in our conversations – we don’t know how to achieve it.  Subtly, without thought, we assert ourselves in ways that show we don’t have a clue as to what being humble is even remotely about.

My challenge for you – and me – today is to watch carefully how we talk with others, not grabbing the spotlight, not topping stories or dropping names, but really, truly listening.

That’s a lesson in humility worth practicing.

Michael and I are off tomorrow to Christian Associates’ North America CONNECT in Minneapolis, at Bethel College.  It will be exciting to be amongst CA people again, especially since I’ll have my husband with me!

And remember that we’re all migrating to my blog at!!

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