Humility and Respect: Our Foundational Values

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Kevin Jones February 19, 2020 You’ll often hear me speak of a pair of values that I treasure the most in people, humility and respect.

These two values go hand-in-hand in how we hold them and act upon them. Since any word can have multiple definitions, let’s get some clarity on how I see each of these terms. I like to think of humility as the absence of bad pride or arrogance. You may be curious as to how I see good and bad pride, and the best way I’ve heard this explained is by Seth Avett’s (Avett Brothers) lyrics: “The pride your Momma had and not the kind that makes you bad.”  With respect, it’s having an admiration not for titles or socio-economic status, but what makes people special: their abilities, certain qualities represented in their character, and their achievements, both individually and with others.

One of the reasons I relate so well to these values, and their high esteem in small towns and rural America, is because of my roots in the High Country of western North Carolina. I was raised by a single mom, and she instilled these values in my siblings and me on a daily basis. But she wasn’t unique—that was our culture in Ashe County. In small places like my hometown of West Jefferson, we always knew who the wealthy folks were, who inherited what from whom, and we also knew—because it was most of us—who lived a more humble existence.

We knew who the pastors were, the bank president, the mayor, as well as who owned the big Christmas tree farms (that’s the big industry in my neck of the woods).  And yet, we didn’t confer any status or merit on any of those people, much less their kids or relatives, without them earning it—and some of them certainly did.  These lessons weren’t just said, we just breathed the air of that place, and it permeated these values of humility and respect. The thing that I love most about consistently challenging myself to live these two characteristics, and also consistently responding with these as my top advice, is that you cannot live an entitled existence while striving to be humble and respectful.  Respecting our fellow man (and woman) is the cheapest for us to give, yet most valuable gift they can receive.

As I shared recently with some incredible community leaders in my hometown, I’ve taken these Ashe County values in my travels around the country and around the world and applied them to virtually everything. Nearly every day, some kind of interaction triggers one or both of these perspectives, the dual lenses through which I see the world. When one of my colleagues comes to me for mentoring, I am immediately humbled. I find the respect I give people increasing and decreasing primarily based on my perception of their contributions and core values. 

I am far from perfect, and none of us are expected to be. But my challenge to myself and any of you reading this is to stay constant in pursuit of these virtues of humility and respect. Sometimes, it’s easy. It’s really easy to promote or reward someone, out of respect, when you see them showing initiative, and achieving crazy new levels of greatness. Other times, it’s hard. I’ve left situations that were really good for me when I felt like those around me would not honor these values and therefore failed to treat people right. I simply can’t abide by blatant arrogance and a lack of respect, especially for people who, while they may not have yet arrived in their careers, are giving everything they have and are progressing toward their goals.

But to have sustained success and joy in this journey, there are no other characteristics more critical than humility and respect.