“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less,” C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity… except he didn’t. This quote has been making the rounds for years, since the publication of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, where it appears as part of Day 19, “Cultivating Community.” And it is to Warren this quote belongs, for indeed, it is his.
It’s a nice quote, and even a helpful one. But what Lewis actually wrote on this subject is far greater:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.1
Here then is the unbridled C.S. Lewis, whose words carry with them the power to knock us off our high horses. For Lewis, the truly humble man “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” And the only way to begin to grasp this is by admitting first that you think of yourself more highly than you ought, for “if you think you are not conceited, you are very conceited indeed.”
Friends, let Warren’s quote be Warren’s, and enjoy it for what it is. But do not miss out on what Lewis actually wrote, for what he wrote is far more powerful than what he didn’t.
- Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 8, “The Great Sin,” Kindle location 1665 ↵