Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Quiet Virtue Speaks: An Intervention to Promote Humility

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Quiet Virtue Speaks: An Intervention to Promote Humility

Article excerpt

Empirical interest in virtues and their benefits has increased in recent years. In the present study, we test the efficacy of a workbook intervention to promote humility. Participants (N= 59) were randomly assigned to a humility condition (n = 26; 7.5-hour workbook) or a control condition (n = 33; non-action). Participants in the humility condition reported greater increases in humility across time than did participants in the control condition, who did not change in humility over time. Participants in the humility condition also increased in forgivingness and patience and decreased in general negativity more than did participants in the control condition. Our findings demonstrate the efficacy of the intervention with both religious and non-religious individuals, consistent with both a Christian and secular classical valuing of humility.

The study of virtues draws interdisciplinary interest from scholars in many domains, such as psychology, religion, and spirituality, and they pervade many aspects our personal, professional, and spiritual lives. The empirical study of virtues is a central focus of the positive psychology movement. Worthington and Berry (2005) differentiated two types of virtues: warmth and conscientiousness-based virtues. Warmth-based virtues (e.g., humility, love, forgiveness, compassion) are aimed toward motivating behaviors oriented to achieve an inner peace, comfort, and harmony. They tend to govern internal processes as opposed to societal interactions, though they often make societal interactions more pleasant. Conscientiousness-based virtues (e.g., patience, justice, responsibility, and self-control) are aimed at fairness, reciprocity, and cooperation between self and others. These virtues are more inhibitory and explicitly directed at governing behavior within society. The focus of the present study is humility, a warmth-based virtue, and the efficacy of a workbook intervention to promote it.

Whereas the study of many virtues (e.g., forgiveness, gratitude) has flourished, the study of humility has developed more slowly. This virtue is both difficult to measure (e.g., someone who claims to be humble might be bragging about their humility) and difficult to promote through intervention. Even so, scholars propose that humility involves having an accurate view of self, evidenced by honest self-evaluation and willingness to accept one's strengths and weaknesses (Davis Worthington, & Hook, 2010; Worthington, 2008) Humility also involves restraint of egoistic motives and promotion of other-oriented behaviors (Davis et al. 2010; Worthington, 2008).

Although there is little extant research on humility, the work that has been done demonstrates promising benefits of humility. For example, Krause (2010) found higher levels of humility to be associated with better overall, self-rated physical health. Those high in humility also tend to endorse better quality in their interpersonal relationships, higher academic performance, higher patience and empathy, and higher ratings of job performance (Davis et al., 2013; Peters, Rowatt, & Johnson, 2011).

Humility has also been noted as a potentially necessary component for any kind of personal transformation, particularly in response to an intervention, wherein one must abandon pride and embrace help from another person or resource (Breggin, 2011). Indeed, some psychologists and religious traditions consider humility to be a master virtue--a gateway to other virtues. For example, Seligman (2002) theorized that humility regulates the ego, thereby opening individuals to other virtues and even enhancing mood.

For this reason, many religious traditions promote humility--before the Sacred and one another--as an avenue for self-transcendence (Bollinger & Hill, 2012; Davis et al., 2010). Not only does humility allow for greater self-transcendence for a stronger relationship with the Sacred, it is this minimizing of and transcendence above the self that allows for other-oriented virtue and existence for a good greater than oneself. …

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