The word humility means freedom from pride or arrogance. Stated more simply it means not believing you are better than others. Interestingly the use of the word humility seems to have peaked in the early 1800’s and has been on a precipitous decline of the last two hundred plus years – with a slight uptick over the last few.

It is worth noting that this decline coincides with our shift from a hunter/gatherer society to one focused first on agriculture and then on industry.

I was recently listening to this Ezra Klein interview with James Suzman, who chronicles the shift in work in his book: Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. At one point, he notes a hilarious sounding practice within hunter/gatherer societies that fostered both humility and civility.

It is called, “insulting the meat.’ In practice it meant that when hunters came back to their tribe, others did not exalt them with praise over the size or quantity of their kill, but rather did the opposite. They mocked them. Often this was good hearted but the effect was to keep someone in their place, to not allow them to get so full of themselves. In other words, to keep them humble.

An extension of this was how the meat itself was dispersed or shared with others. This was not the responsibility or honor of the hunter. Rather it was given to the person who made the arrow that killed the meat.

This practice demonstrated that our success is not the sole result of the hunters’ efforts but deeply connected to others in the tribe who made that success possible in the first place.

There were many other benefits to practices such as these. Inequality was low, sharing expected. People did not seek to acquire more than what was needed and they in turn worked less and had more time for leisure.

We often joke that we live in an “everyone gets a trophy” society – but what if we instead lived in one where “no one gets a trophy” or “everyone shares the trophy”?

As you go about your week hunting whatever game or success is in front of you, maybe consider asking “who made your arrow?” upon your return home.

Happy hunting.

Leave a Reply

Sign up here to receive Moving Up Mondays

Receive our weekly email, delivering inspiration and perspective every Monday morning.