It seems this topic is a popular one. Many people search on Google to try and understand just what the difference is between being humble and being a doormat -if there is any. In a previous post, I argued that there is indeed a difference, using Jesus as the prime example. Below I offer three more thoughts on the subject.
First, part of the reason we may find this confusing is that I believe we tend to view humility as thinking lowly of oneself, the opposite of thinking too highly of oneself (probably because we lack good examples of humility). But this is not the case. Humility is not thinking lowly of oneself -it is just as easy to be self-preoccupied negatively, and it is utterly unhelpful to call that a virtue. But it is obviously not thinking highly of oneself, either. And it is definitely not some kind of middle-ground between the two. Humility is thinking of oneself less. It is, as Tim Keller calls it, "self-forgetfulness."
Humility is off the grid. It doesn't play by the rules of the scale. It is the denial of the scale.
Second, if you really look at it, humble actions and doormat actions are really not all that similar. Again, perhaps part of the confusion arises because we picture humility as a meek little self-flagellating person who is always beating themselves for daring to act as though they were equal with others. Christians are not immune to this. In fact, I wonder to what degree the Christian traditions over the centuries have helped paint this very picture.
But that is not humility. A humble person would do things a doormat never would. A humble person would tell the uncomfortable truth to someone even if it might mean personal loss. They don't use "the truth" as a power-play like some do, but they would find a way to speak it if they felt it was important for the other person. A doormat never would. In other words, a humble person is not afraid to rock the boat when it benefits other people -because they are not obsessed with making sure they never personally fall out of it. But a doormat resists rocking the boat, and when their real feelings finally surface and explode, it is always followed by shame and self-condemnation for daring to think they are equal enough with others to get involved.
Third, the funny thing about humility is that you cannot really emulate it directly. The moment you call humility a virtue and think you've pulled off "acting humbly", you will notice that you immediately are proud of how humble you are. Or as Tim Keller puts it... humility is "shy... the minute you start talking about it, it goes away."
Humility is the result of something that happens to you which shifts your gaze away from you and outward toward others.