If You are White, Turn to Humility | VIA Institute

If You are White, Turn to Humility

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec


Deep listening.


Tolerating our own discomfort.

Self-regulation of the urge to “feel better.”


Humility needs to be our psychological starting point and our endpoint. The first thing to realize is that as a White person you cannot know what it’s like to be Black living in the United States. You cannot know the deep-seated suffering. You cannot know the automatic judgment on your shoulders the second you walk out your door. You cannot know the ripple effect of that into every fabric of your being and action. You can’t know. You don’t know. I don’t know. Hard stop.

That said, you do care. I care. You want change. I want change. What can be done?

You can strengthen your humility!

Humility is the strength that deals with listening, quieting the ego, and placing focus on others. It’s not having to be right, to feel you’re better than others, to always “get it,” or to feel special. But, you aren’t comfortable with humility. Few people are. It’s a challenging strength to work on and you probably aren’t practiced with it. I say that because humility is consistently one of the least common character strengths across the globe, in study after study.

Still, you can make progress on your humility. Wouldn’t that be important right now?

Listen to protesters, listen to Black leaders. Close your eyes and really listen. Then…

Return to humility.

Empathize and try to feel what others are feeling.

Return to humility.

Try to deeply understand the other person’s experience.

Return to humility.

You feel uncomfortable. Self-regulate your personal agenda to “feel better right now.”

Return to humility.

Use your zest to get fired up for what’s right – and far more challenging, the perseverance to stick with it!

Return to humility.

Speak against injustice and deep-seated unfairness.

Return to humility.

Elevate the voices of the disenfranchised, the quiet ones, the invisible ones.

Return to humility.

Gain new perspectives, understandings, and insights about others.

Return to humility.

Use emotional intelligence to try to understand the feelings and day-to-day mindset of others.

Return to humility.

This is the psychology that can accompany your activism and my activism. Humility is the lens. Humility is the default. Humility is the guiding force. Be patient - it will activate all your other strengths in time. It will unleash your zest-filled perseverance, your citizenship actions, your creative ideas, your empathic kindness, and your bravery-induced wisdom.

But if we don’t keep returning to humility, we will believe we’ve figured it out. We will feel we have taken enough action. We will become complacent. We will feel we’ve felt enough of the discomfort. We will go back to our ego and our own personal agenda.

Let’s not miss this opportunity to be better than ourselves.

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels