Quotations about   humility

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We have all heard enough to fill a book about Dr. Johnson’s incivilities. I wish they would compile another book consisting of Dr. Johnson’s apologies. There is no better test of a man’s ultimate chivalry and integrity than how he behaves when he is wrong; and Johnson behaved very well. He understood (what so many faultlessly polite people do not understand) that a stiff apology is a second insult. He understood that the injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
“The Real Dr. Johnson,” The Common Man (1950)
Added on 6-Mar-19 | Last updated 6-Mar-19
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If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
Enchiridion, 33 (c. AD 135) [tr. Long (1888)]
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Alt. trans.: "If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you, but answer, 'He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would have not mentioned these alone.'" [tr. Higginson (1948)]
Added on 12-Sep-18 | Last updated 12-Sep-18
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Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.

John Wooden (1910-2010) American basketball player and coach
They Call Me Coach (1972)
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Added on 4-Sep-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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You can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Letters to Lucilius [Epistulae morales ad Lucilium], Letter 52 “On choosing our teachers,” Sec. 12
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Added on 17-Oct-17 | Last updated 17-Oct-17
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The Abilities of Man must fall short on one side or other, like too scanty a Blanket when you are a-bed. If you pull it upon your Shoulders, you leave your Feet bare; if you thrust it down upon your Feet, your Shoulders are uncovered.

William Temple, 1st Baronet Temple (1628-1699) English statesman and essayist.
Miscellanea (1705)
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Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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No labor, however humble, is dishonoring.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 49b

Alt. trans.: "Great is labor, for it honors the worker." [tr. Freedman] Alt. trans.: "Labor is great, as it brings honor to the laborer who performs it."
Added on 6-Jul-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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The wisest man could ask no more of Fate
Than to be simple, modest, manly, true,
Safe from the Many, honored by the Few;
To count as naught in World, or Church, or State,
But inwardly in secret to be great.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
“Jeffries Wyman,” The Nation #484 (8 Oct 1874)
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Added on 20-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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Let us be content to do little, if God sets us at little tasks. It is but pride and self-will which says, “Give me something huge to fight, — and I should enjoy that — but why make me sweep the dust?”

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
Letter, “To a lady who consulted him about Sisterhoods” (24 Jul 1854)
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Added on 13-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jun-17
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The abdomen is the reason why man does not easily take himself for a god.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
Beyond Good and Evil, ch. 4 “Apophthegms and Interludes,” #141 (1886)

Alt. trans.: "The belly is the reason why man does not so readily take himself for a God." [tr. Zimmern]
Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 25-May-17
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If I thought of man as the final image of God, I should not know what to think of God. But when I consider that our ancestors, at a time fairly recent in relation to the earth’s history, were perfectly ordinary apes, closely related to chimpanzees, I see a glimmer of hope. It does not require very great optimism to assume that from us human beings something better and higher may evolve. Far from seeing in man the irrevocable and unsurpassable image of God, I assert — more modestly and, I believe, in greater awe of the Creation and its infinite possibilities — that the long-sought missing link between animals and the really humane being is ourselves!

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) Austrian zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist
On Aggression, ch. 12 “On the Virtue of Scientific Humility” (1963)
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Added on 1-May-17 | Last updated 1-May-17
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The best advice I’ve ever received is, “No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

Gervais - what theyre doing either - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Tweet (7 Oct 2014)
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Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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You know, if you’re an American and you’re born at this time in history especially, you’re lucky. We all are. We won the world history Powerball lottery, but a little modesty about it might keep the heat off of us. I can’t stand the people who say things like, “We built this country!” You built nothing. I think the railroads were pretty much up by 1980.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Victory Begins at Home (20 Jan 2004)
Added on 4-May-16 | Last updated 4-May-16
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In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands where we are not ashamed of our weakness but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our own hands.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
With Open Hands (1972)
Added on 29-Apr-16 | Last updated 29-Apr-16
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Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Guildhall, London (12 Jun 1945)
Added on 23-Feb-16 | Last updated 23-Feb-16
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Do you wish people to think well of you? Don’t speak well of your-self.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French scientist and philosopher
Pensées, # 4 (1670)
Added on 17-Feb-16 | Last updated 17-Feb-16
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For as blushing will sometimes make a whore pass for a virtuous woman, so modesty may make a fool seem a man of sense.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1727)
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Added on 11-Jan-16 | Last updated 11-Jan-16
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But though I’m not a spaceman,
Famous and renowned,
I’m just a guy that’s down to earth,
With both feet on the ground.
It’s all imagination,
I’ll never reach the stars.
My heart is still a fireball, a fireball,
Every time I gaze into your starry eyes.

Other Authors and Sources
“Fireball XL-5,” st. 3 (1962)
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Charles Blackwell (lyrics), Barry Gray (music), Don Spencer (vocals).
Added on 5-Jan-16 | Last updated 5-Jan-16
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Make the least ado about your greatest gifts. Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish writer.
The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 23:11-12
Added on 3-Apr-15 | Last updated 3-Apr-15
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Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (8 May 1750)
Added on 23-Mar-15 | Last updated 23-Mar-15
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Science increases our power in proportion as it lowers our pride.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 4 (1928)
Added on 6-Feb-15 | Last updated 6-Feb-15
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Young man, the secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered I was not God.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
Comment (8 Mar 1931)

When asked by a reporter on his 90th birthday.
Added on 16-Jan-15 | Last updated 16-Jan-15
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You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Will Self (b. 1961) English author, journalist, television personality
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 12-Nov-14 | Last updated 12-Nov-14
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There is no method more likely to cure passion and rashness, than the frequent and attentive consideration of one’s own weaknesses: this will work into the mind an habitual sense of the need one has of being pardoned, and will bring down the swelling pride and obstinacy of heart, which are the cause of hasty passion.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 16-Oct-14 | Last updated 16-Oct-14
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If you have a friend that will reprove your faults and foibles, consider you enjoy a blessing which the king upon the throne cannot have.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 25-Sep-14 | Last updated 25-Sep-14
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There is an affected humility more unsufferable than downright pride, as hypocrisy is more abominable than libertinism. Take care that your virtues be genuine and unsophisticated.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 4-Sep-14 | Last updated 4-Sep-14
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The only happy author in this world is he who is below the care of reputation.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) American author [pseud. for Geoffrey Crayon]
Tales of a Traveler, Part 2 “The Poor-Devil Author” (1824)
Added on 29-Jul-14 | Last updated 29-Jul-14
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You can’t do the biggest things in this world unless you handle men; and you can’t handle men if you’re not in sympathy with them; and sympathy begins in humility.

George Horace Lorimer (1867-1937) American journalist, author, magazine editor
Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1901)
Added on 29-Jul-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-15
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The greatest achievement in my life in terms of morality is that I can apologize to someone I have wronged. I can bow my head and ask for forgiveness. I think everyone should learn to do this, everyone should realize that, far from humiliating, it elevates the soul.

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) Russian cellist and conductor
(Attributed)
Added on 28-Jul-14 | Last updated 28-Jul-14
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Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Anne Enright (b. 1962) Irish writer
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 19-Jun-14 | Last updated 19-Jun-14
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What separates me from most atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos. The fanatical atheists are like the slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who — in their grudge against traditional religion as the “opium of the masses” — cannot hear the music of the spheres. I prefer the attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and our own being. Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Spurious / Synthetic)

This quotation is actually a synthesis of several Einstein quotes. It is sometimes attributed as a whole to "Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium" (1941), but only a part is found there. Nor is it found at all  in the also sometimes cited "Religion and Science," New York Times Magazine (9 Nov 1930)

The "utter humility" portion is attributed as a letter from Einstein to Joseph Lewis (18 Apr 1953).  It was quoted in Walter Isaacson, Einstein (2007). The “fanatical” through “spheres” portion is in a letter (7 Aug 1941) discussing responses to his essay “Science and Religion” (1941) per Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology (1999)

The “weakness of our intellectual understanding” phrase is attributed to a letter to Guy H. Raner Jr. (28 Sep 1949), quoted in the Isaacson work as well as by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic, Vol. 5, No. 2.

The lame/blind phrase is attributed to a letter to Eric Gutkind (3 Jan 1954). It was earlier used by Einstein (1941) at the Symposium cited above.

This synthetic quotation is a good example of the difficulties in quoting Einstein, who is used as a polemical bludgeon by a variety of groups, and is often poorly or incorrectly cited online, compounded by his re-use the same turns of phrase multiple times in his correspondence and papers.
Added on 31-Jul-09 | Last updated 16-Mar-17
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No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American-British poet, critic, playwright [Thomas Stearns Eliot]
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917)
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Keep me from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
Mirrors of the Soul (1965)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Oct-16
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He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Micah 6:8 (NIV)

  • KJV: "He hath shewed thee, O man what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
  • NRSV: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Dec-15
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