‘I believe that the first test of a truly Great man is his Humility’

John Ruskin

Architecture is a profession that thrives in pride. The first reaction I get when I announce what I do for a living to people is, “Damn!” and a look of respect that most times money can’t buy. And what of the men? Women flock around them, married or otherwise, because of the allure of financial security and flamboyance associated with the title Architect! This has its roots in school where it is one of the only courses where your opinion is demanded and used as a marking scheme…and so my opinion is judged against anothers. We practically thrive in self-elevation.

So how much is too much? Is it our tearing down of colleague’s work with no reference at all what the right design is? Is it our looking down upon other professions…’Umm, he does some type of engineering!’ (GUILTY!) Or is it walking into a new place of work as a graduate architect but acting like the Principal of the firm towards all the technicians? We are all guilty in one way or another but the price we pay for our pride hurts only us.

So if pride doesn’t fuel our architecture, what does? Wouldn’t our masterpieces be subjected to the world’s criticism and become the jokes of the season? If they do, humbly know that they were jokes to begin with..

All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Humility can be described as;
‘a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank etc’
or one of my favourites, ‘the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.’
It is a noun, not an verb therefore, a choice that bears fruit manifested in actions. You have to consciously work at it because its rewards elevate you to greater positions. You are not a great architect by declaring yourself great, but by others declaring you great! So hold your horses on the new age marketing, people will be curious but they won’t buy your empty words.
Humility, I have found, gives you some great gifts;
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
1st Corinthians 3:18

What if, you took a glass and painted it to seem as though it was full of juice while you are at a restaurant? From afar all the waiters will assume it full and none of them would refill it. But it’s empty, even with the illusion that it has juice, it doesn’t. That’s what pride does, it wards off any added value.
I recall in school, choosing to stay aloof during a class because well, I was a ‘genius’ in that subject, I was allowed to zone out and catch up later- it was, after all in my DNA! I could do an exam on that unit with my eyes closed and still get an A! (What a joke!)
Or how a certain lecturer was dreaded by half the class because he is a Quantity Surveyor, and in some unwritten law, all Qs lecturers had it in for architects! Or worse still, the ethnicity card. (I have used this one) This lecturer favours people from his own ethnic group, look they answer all his questions in class. And so we close up our minds and resign to the ‘fact’ that we are awesome, it’s the rest of the world that has a problem.
Newsflash! Unless you empty yourself of all that and more, how do you expect to be filled? It gets worse in the workplace where you don’t want to take input from the client or other consultants, your drawings are masterpieces to the audience of one (you) and so its the drawings or the highway! Life doesn’t work like that and sooner or later you will discover that. (I hope it won’t be too late) Other people’s experience is a great thing. Use it to your advantage, there is little time to be making the same mistakes your boss made while in your position. Humble yourself, and listen and learn how he deals with his clients and consultants alike. It saves him money as well.
“NOTHING I say will teach me anything new, so if I’m going to learn I must do it by listening.”
I am yet to find anyone that does not crave respect. We all do. But we go about demanding it in ways that draw fear and resentment rather than respect.
‘Respect is two-way. You have to give it to receive it. And when you receive it, naturally, you have no choice but to give it back.’
Humility is the highest sign of respect. When we estimate our status as lower than someone else (even when society, school, age and financial status tells us we are above them) it is basically respecting them. And naturally, a sane individual reciprocates the gesture and shows us respect. I always greet my elders in the African handshake that symbolises that I am younger than my counterpart, and I can attest that it not only brings you greater attention but respect as well.
If you walk into an office and respect the tea-girls’ space and work and adhere to her boundaries won’t you find yourself with that extra cup of tea, without even asking? And if you respect your boss’ office and follow the company laws and regulations it only follows that s/he will entrust you to meet clients and professionals and be the company’s representative.
And if you think the flip side will bring you respect, you are wrong. What people do to loud, proud people is flee from them lest they become like them..
‘Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.’
DESIDERATA, by Max Ehrmann
The desire to lead is an inherent trait. We are born with a desire to guide others in a certain way but for you to guide anyone, they have to accept your leadership. To accept it , as human nature would have it, others have to be sure of getting something out of it. A humble leader has a true flock because they give an opportunity for others to voice their opinions, they listen silently and with true wisdom they make a decision not so as to please but so as to guide. And because humility bares respect, their decisions are respected.Loud, proud persons can only be heads, ceremonial masters, dictators and what they do is not leading but dominating. And the people they oppress with time will rebel.
As architects we are called to lead and if we cannot, most times we get kicked out of projects. Leadership is not pushing our agenda down people’s throats, it is humbly recognising the BEST idea. What people don’t realise is that humility is not a weakness, it is a strength.
We are always at war in pride. Trying to get on top of the list. MUST make Top40 under 40. MUST be better architect than so and so. MUST prove I am right when I am clearly wrong (reminds me of a debate on salt in the office.. and I was wrong) MUST assert myself. MUST announce myself. MUST convince the architects on Kenya Pin-up Board that my design is a masterpiece.With all those MUSTs how does anyone get time to work let alone find peace? Your mind will go on over-drive and so will your peace. And the result is no peace of mind.
On the flip side, if when you are wrong and you admit you are (like I’m doing now for the salt thing!) you move on to matters that are more important. Take responsibility for your mistakes in the office so that a solution is sort in good time- it saves time and money. Take responsibility in school, it’s not your lecturer’s ethnic group that  made you go out for rave every weekend while others slaved in studio.
Also be humble enough to accept the consequences of your actions, guilt and regret are states that can drive someone crazy. Be happy that your consequence pushed you to a lower status than you previously were because when you are down, you can only go up. Like a recoil before a leap, humility is a power, use it!
NB. If you feel called out by this article, do something! I called out myself and so can you, time is of the essence, don’t waste it with futility.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Caleb says:

    Nice read

    1. Glad you think so 🙂

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