Stay Humble - My Crucial Life Lesson From the Blackfeet

Jordan Brown

When a person has this one quality, it makes life so much easier.

And it's a quality that's totally unassuming.

In fact, that's the entire point.

Anyone who has this quality immediately becomes more likable and easier to deal with.

The quality is humility. Being humble. Giving others the room to speak and share their knowledge.

There's something very important that happens in relationships when a person is humble.

So If you're looking to transform for the better how you interact with others and improve your overall mental and relational health, you need to read through the story I'm about to tell.

It will teach you how to stay humble.

Humility On the Blackfeet Reservation

I was driving up to the Blackfeet Reservation with someone I deeply respected.

He started off as a colleague and later became a mentor.

And now he's a friend.

I was in charge of a program setting up mental health programs in three school districts in Montana. One of them was in northern Montana on the the Blackfeet Reservation.

Although I had worked with people from different cultures in the Peace Corps and in other areas in my life, this felt different. The first few trips up to the Blackfeet Reservation, I felt totally out of my element and intimidated by the vastness of the wide-open spaces, the looming mountains, and the people who lived completely different lives than my own.

What did I have to teach people who had successfully taught themselves about the world for thousands of years?

They had more collective wisdom in that part of Montana than I could ever hope to attain in one lifetime.

Or so I thought.

In this car ride, with this mentor who had spent a good part of his youth living on the reservation, I learned important lessons about life.

"Do you know why you're successful working with the Blackfeet?" he asked me.

"No, not really," I responded shyly.

"Because you're humble. Most people try to go up there and act like saviors, but they've heard it all before. They're used to people showing up with great plans and grant dollars to meet their own government objectives. You don't do that."

This conversation stuck with me. To me, I didn't know any other way.

My parents were both teachers. I saw them put themselves before their students and adopt an attitude of confidence, yes, but also one of humility, of gratitude to be able to lead by example, an example of not always knowing the right answer, but of being able to search and humble themselves until that answer appeared.

And that's what I did during my year of work on the Blackfeet Reservation. It absolutely put me outside of my comfort zone to not be able to adhere to a strict agenda during meetings--but that's not how it's done there. If an elder starts a comment by telling a story of an event that occurred to the tribe in 1933, you can be confident that the story has a point--and an extremely important one at that. It wasn't a matter of wasting time; it was relaying vital information that an outsider needed to understand before he could ever hope to enter the hearts and minds of the people who made up the community.

What Being (And Staying) Humble Can Do For Your Life

What does a story about one man's short stint working on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana have to do with your life?

What instructions does it contain for how you interact with others?

Quite a few, actually.

Humility is the great equalizer in relationships.

It's telling the other person not only that you don't know everything--but that you're fully interested in taking in new information.

Humility is oxygen in a conversation. It injects a light breeze into a relationship. When you admit that you don't everything, you invite another person to teach you what they know. It's as much about the words you say as the body posture that you adopt. You can say that you're humble but not mean it. Actions, like they usually do, matter much, much more when it comes to interacting with others.

Just consider who you would rather talk to if stuck in an elevator for 30 minutes - Mr. Arrogant or Ms. Humble?

Someone bragging about everything they know, or someone asking you to share your wisdom so they can learn as much as they can to better their life?

As far as soft skills go, humility seems like one of the softest. But you must stay humble.

At least in the United States, society celebrates the strong leader who takes decisive action, not the mild-mannered spectator trying to soak up as much wisdom as he can.

But that's what I was on the Blackfeet reservation: a spectator.

I knew that the community had the knowledge to solve their own issues. I just had to show up with the right questions and an open heart.

And you know how to solve your own problems, too.

It's the approach I take when writing The Mental Health Update.

All I can do is offer up ideas, injecting a light breeze into the giant wind tunnel that life can so often feel like.

Rather than aim gale force winds onto another person, I've found that it's better to introduce an almost imperceptible force, an influence that may seem like nothing at first, but that, one day, shifts something inside of one person at a time, allowing the tectonic plates of life's difficulties to one day snap into place.