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Teaching Her Humility

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Humility makes her feel significant. 

I know it sounds like an oxymoron to say that humility will make your daughter feel more significant, but here’s why it’s true. To fulfill her potential, your daughter needs to understand who she is, where she comes from, and where she’s going. And her understanding needs to be accurate.

Perhaps she has a talent for music. Perhaps she is smart or athletic. Like any enthusiastic parent, you are proud of her accomplishments. You pour money and time into her talents to strengthen them. You cheer for her at spelling bees, piano recitals, or basketball games.

Your support and encouragement are important. But you need to be careful too. If all you do is bolster her self-esteem with applause, she’ll eventually see through that, and she’ll wind up feeling frustrated. If she -doesn’t understand the virtue of humility, she’ll start looking in the wrong places to try to feel better about herself.

Humility is seeing ourselves honestly. It keeps us in the real world. Because we want our daughters to excel at everything they do, to be prettier, smarter, better than everyone else, we can confuse our priorities—and theirs.

Our daughters – don’t need excessive praise to feel good about themselves. Deep inside, your daughter knows she’s good at some things and not very good at other things. She often views her talents more realistically than her parents do, and the harder her parents push the praise button, the more she questions herself: Is this the reason my parents love me so much? Am I worth more to my dad if I play the violin better?

Another problem is self-centeredness. When family activities revolve around what we believe our kids “need” or “want” in order to feel better about themselves, we drive them to become self-centered. Many times girls gain a sense of superiority over their peers when they excel at something. And when this happens, they can become isolated from friends, peers, and family. Competitiveness creeps in. Their sense of superiority makes their world small and self-contained. They find no joy in what’s around them. They focus on success, not on friends.

The writer Henry Fairlie was right to remark, “Pride excites us to take too much pleasure in ourselves, does not encourage us to take pleasure in our humanity, and what is commonly shared by all of us as social beings.”

Pride is the opposite of humility. Remember what Dante wrote about the proud in the Divine Comedy? They burned in their self-absorbed pleasures, lonely and isolated for eternity. As Dante leaves them, the Angel of Humility comes to him, bringing splendor, peace, and contentment: “She bore about her so true an umilita that she seemed to say, I am in peace.” Humility brings with it deep joy and satisfaction because it keeps us from becoming manically self-absorbed.

-Don’t let this happen to your daughter. Keep her world larger than herself and her talents. Gently guide her to recognize her strengths and limitations. Let her fail. Let her know that you still love her when she fails. Let her know that she’s valuable not only for what she does, but for who she is. Here is your chance to teach her one of life’s greatest lessons: people are valuable because they’re human, not because of what they do.

But if you teach your daughter that improving her talent, intellect, or beauty will increase her self-esteem, you’re setting her up for a terrible lesson, a lesson that can be exploited by others. When she goes shopping, what does she see? Millions of products promising to make her feel better. When she buys glossy magazines, she sees the sexy women on the cover as models to emulate. When she follows fad diets, she expects them to make her more beautiful, popular, and valuable.

Every week, your daughter is encouraged to buy hundreds of image-changing products—all of which focus on the superficial, not on what’s real. Research has shown that, for example, people will buy outdoor clothing from signature companies like Patagonia not because they spend a lot of time outdoors, but because they want to feel or look like someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. Advertisers tell your daughter that her life will be more complete, exciting, and joyful if she buys their products, because they know the sales pitch works. It works because too many of our daughters have been set up to believe it. When fathers -don’t teach their daughters humility—that we are all created equal and are equally valuable—advertisers, magazines, and celebrities will teach them otherwise.

Vogue and Cosmopolitan will teach your eighteen-year-old (or ten-year-old) daughter that her worth is based on having an emaciated body with large breasts, wearing the newest and most expensive clothes, and being a “constant turn-on” to boys and men. Paris Hilton—a product of money, marketing, and diet—will be, to her, the quintessential beauty. Your daughter will read and absorb Paris’s persona and try to imitate it. She’ll use Paris Hilton to fill the emotional emptiness and social and spiritual vacuity she feels. That should be warning enough. But her longing to follow Paris and her ilk will draw your daughter toward a hatred of not having beauty, money, or a thin-enough frame. And she will be drawn away from a life of humility.

Can a woman be both gorgeous and humble? Can your daughter be brilliant, in passionate pursuit of a successful career, but still appreciate that she alone is not wholly responsible for her success? Absolutely. Humility will make your daughter’s accomplishments shine all the more, and she will be more emotionally grounded, more satisfied, and happier than if she had tried to imitate Paris Hilton’s life.

Marketers, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton draw your daughter into a life of emptiness. You can lead her in another direction by teaching her that she’s valuable because of who she is—and because you love her. Her life is equal in value to yours and to everyone else’s. Talent, intellect, and beauty are wonderful things to have, but they will never make her life more meaningful or give her more significance as a woman. Only humility will.

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