On the great virtue of humility, A J Cronin outlines the story of Mario, a bright and prosperous boy and his companion Anselmo, relatively dull and poor.

Sensing his own capacities, even while young, Mario aspired to become a great preacher. Anselmo, who admired his dear friend, prayed for him, encouraging him with simple words. Years later, Mario entered the church as his simple companion took up the job of carrying out the menial duties of the house, happy in the feeling that he was near his dear Mario. On his being ordained, during his inaugural sermon, Mario was at his eloquent best. Other sermons followed, as he was sought after by many.

Years passed. Mario was now the cynosure of all eyes, becoming the bishop and attracting a large audience. Anselmo also accompanied him wherever he went, serving him devotedly, sitting in rapt attention and adulation, though unnoticed, in a corner, before his friend. Even Mario ceased to notice him, busy as he was in his own affairs and style of living.
One Sunday, as the bishop preached, he was conscious of the absence of Anselmo among the audience. Try as he did, he could not bring into his sermon the needed flow. On enquiry, he was informed that Anselmo had died just an hour before and that he had spent all the years in a small cell near the stables, attending to the birds and beggars around and “praying for a lay brother, for a good intention”.

Grief stricken though, Mario had no time to reproach himself for the haughtiness and indifference with which he had treated Anselmo, during his last years. He had to hurry off to Rome where at the St Peter’s, he was to address the archbishops. The next day, as he ascended the famous pulpit, he could not bring into his sermon the needed eloquence. He glanced down, in vain, to seek inspiration from those loving eyes of his companion.

Furious that he should have been seized of a fancy that a menial worker had influenced him so much, Mario sought to redeem himself for the ensuing sermons. But, alas, one instance after another, he had to grope for words, until one day, he broke down, muttering, “It is true. He was the substance, I am the empty husk”!
Mario spent his days in seclusion. One day, as the Prior saw him kneeling beside Anselmo’s grave, praying, he asked Mario, “My son, do you pray that eloquence be restored to you?”. Mario replied, “No Father. I ask for a greater blessing…. Humility”.

Food for thought!

What lessons can we draw. Why did Mario lose his power to perform in the absense of Anselmo? Mario learns the value of ‘humility’ under tragic circumstances.  Are there any examples of leaders who believe in humility?  How can we develop this virtue in ourselves? What if people take advantage of our humility? Please do share your thoughts.

About Dilip

An open mind! Love to share my thoughts and a keenness to learn. An engineer and a MBA I had a wonderful innings in the Army and later moved to consultancy and teaching. My current interests are music and growing culinary herbs. Love to play golf and do yoga regularly. I am serious on "Living life less seriously". A warm welcome to you be well and be cheerful always.

13 responses

  1. Well, In tears! Fact is Humility is a virtue, so few people posses it, and yes, the world will take advantage of humble people, so, I think we should be smart enough to know when someone is taking advantage of us, and just move on- keep our dignity intact-


    • dilipnaidu says:

      Absolutely people must not be allowed to exploit our humility. But when a person becomes rich and powerful and yet maintains is humility is always loved and respected.
      Thank you.


  2. Gaurav R Arora says:

    The story bring out the fact that organization are so busy in expansion and competition that they forget to value their people .Everyone is running in an never-ending race ,Organizations can only grow if people grows. Hiring best brains will work for short time but in a longer run leaders need to develop human capital. It deals with looking down on the process of generating More Mario’s (leader).

    Though Anselmo was dull and poor, Mario should have taken some attempt (time) to improve him.
    Humility is very important aspect of leadership. Humility helps leader to think beyond personal gains. It generate trust in leadership, however as Excess of anything can be harmful Humility should be used in right degree by the leaders.

    In words of George Arliss
    “Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life.”

    I think , leadership that drives organization success and its effective use of emotions that drives leadership. Leaders need to be Humble in order to solve certain issues which cannot be solved by giving monetary gains and training .Leaders goal is to push people but he need to do it with respect.
    Humility is not about putting others first above yourself it’s about treating others equal as you. We should give credit to someone who deserves it. I strongly feel humility is all about learning from others, accepting new ways, Building Mutual Respect and Developing relationship. If humility can develop good relationship it can contribute to organization work climate, which in turn will lead to overall effectiveness.

    Leaders who want to lead by example and inspire other need to have humility trait. By having humility a leaders will be able to bring people together to do greater things; Mahatma Gandhi will be a perfect example.

    Ill like to share a poem on Humility written by Gbolagun.

    The good quality of strong folks,
    The virtue of that separate men from the boys,

    Not an indication of weakness
    Not a sign of timidity or shyness,

    A state of accurately estimating your strength,
    Grace to decide what can do and can’t do,

    Elegance to flow with the high and mighty
    Meekness to identify with the down trodden.

    Leaders having Humility trait can-
    • Delegate authority and responsibility well
    • Involve others in decision making
    • Look at development of others. Very important in Hr context as main function is development for improving performance of individuals for organization and individual success.

    Humility trait helps to bring Change in an organization. Leaders who demonstrate this trait can make workplace free from negative emotions thus creating a fun loving environment.

    As a mater of fact I think CEO of every company should have this humility trait, though I agree it won’t be so effective in turnaround situation where leaders need to be aggressive, but in long run yes it will.

    Humility creates openness to life that helps leaders to admit mistake and failure.
    I would like to end my comments with a quote from Bible.
    ‘When pride comes, then comes disgraces, but with Humility comes wisdom’


    Gaurav R Arora


  3. Lalit Verma says:

    There were many leaders who follow humility but the one who I admire most is Gautam Buddha. He has devoted his life to help others.
    We can develop Humility by practicing what Budda has mentioned in his book “The Panchshila”
    The Panchshila of Buddha is comprised of the basic teachings of conduct which are as under:

    1. No killing Respect for life
    2. No stealing Respect for others’ property
    3. No sexual misconduct Respect for our pure nature
    4. No lying Respect for honesty
    5. No intoxicants Respect for a clear mind

    I know that its not easy to follow these principles but they are not impossible.


  4. dilipnaidu says:

    Helen Keller’s quote is so encouraging. Even though we may not be in powerful leadership positions even the small things can matter. The second part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s quote is quite clear but ‘honest arrogance’ has to be interpreted wisely. I think we tend to slip on this. Thank you for the appreciation and contribution.


    • Dwarak Ethiraj says:

      Dilip, I fully agree. In fact more than ignorance, it is the widely prevailing “hypocritical humility” that seem responsible for the” slip ” among the educated.


  5. Banu H says:

    Very thought provoking post indeed. Do not have any thing concrete to say right now on this, but wanted to share the following two quotes,

    I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.
    – Helen Keller

    Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.
    – Frank Lloyd Wright


  6. dilipnaidu says:

    Gary thanks for the link above. Your article explains the main question convincingly. I was privileged to do 30 years in an organization whose winning ‘mantra’ was and is leadership at all levels. The leaders who were most courageous, aggressive & effective in fierce & high risk situations displayed humility, compassion & care when the conditions were normal & stable. Another interesting observation is that they always maintained a wonderful sense of humor even in adverse times. The followers had implicit faith in such leaders and were inspired to face any challenge that went beyond the call of duty. All this supported by a shared vision, a performing culture and focused training. Thank you for sharing.


  7. Gary Clayton says:

    I think Cronin’s story says a lot about humility and the need to maintain a healthy balance in all that we do and all that we tink about ourselves.

    Cronin’s story shows clearly what can happen if we start to think of our old friends with distain, seeing those old friends as not being like us, not important enough to stay in touch with.

    Does humility have a place in leadership? Yes, but not always.
    Leadership and humility are both about relationship. Leadership is about having a relationship with your followers. Humility reflects certain qualities that you may have in any relationship.

    Humility is often defined by what it is not (“not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive” per Merriam Webster Online). There are many times when it is most appropriate to be true to all four qualities. Yet often, we want our leaders to be assertive, to regulate the behaviors of aberrant members of the group and to assert our rights to external bodies. And there are times we want to see our leaders display some measure of pride, haughtiness and arrogance – but not usually toward us.

    Moses and Gandhi are two examples of great leaders who showed humility. Yet another is the Second Continental Congress of the United States, who very humbly petitioned King George over several years without response. In July, 1776, they finally set humility aside and issued the Declaration of Independence, in which their rights as free men were asserted clearly.

    Humility has a place in leadership, but not always. I’ve written more at http://garybclayton.com/leadership/2009/04/leadership-humility/.


  8. dilipnaidu says:

    How beautiful how true & how deep! This is spiritual. Thank you I will learn more from your blog.


  9. anon says:

    “Music needs the hollowness of the flute; Letters, the blankness of the page; Light, the void called a window; Holiness, the absence of the self.”
    Rhapsodysinger has written a beautiful post on humility.Spirituality requires one to cleanse oneself of ego and the sense of self. Read the post at


  10. dethiraj says:

    Without going into speculation of humility being a virtue or something else, there is ample evidence to show that men of humility have been able to send out their messages with greater power.

    As a trait, humility is certainly useful in a leadership role complimenting other capabilities. Both Churchill and Gandhi were intelligent men and also had admirers, but we know how far each got. The chances of having followers dramatically increases when the leader exhibits humility.

    The first step in developing this trait (… I do not say “virtue”…) is to be convinced of its power and the rest is “self inflicted”.

    While it is true that many will try to take advantage of of a person with humility, allowing that to happen is totally another issue and never to be confused with.



    • dilipnaidu says:

      Dwarak. Your one statement says it all – “Men of humility are able to send out their messages with greater power”. How amazing! I appreciate your response. Thanks. Dilip