Lewis Hamilton won his third Formula 1 title this week, elevating him to the same rarefied level as Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda… and a certain Brazilian driver who obviously means a lot to Lewis, for it prompted the new champ to say, “It is a very humbling experience to equal Ayrton Senna, who inspired me and still does today.” But wait a minute… is that what the word “humble” really means?
I suppose what people in Mr Hamilton’s position (for there are plenty of others using the word in the same way) are trying to convey when they talk of being “humbled” at their own achievements is their sense of unworthiness at being mentioned in the same breath as their heroes. Fair enough. But when you’re talking about your own humility, there’s a fine line between wide-eyed wonder and coming over all Uriah Heep.
You see, people who are genuinely “humbled” (or ‘umble, for that matter) don’t usually need – or even want – to advertise the fact. What is a “humbling” experience? It’s a slap in the face that makes it perfectly clear to you that you’re not as hot as you thought you were. It’s South Africa losing to Japan in the Rugby World Cup. It’s David Moyes’ tail-between-legs exit from Manchester United. It’s Volkswagen’s forced admission that their car exhausts have sucked for years. Sorry, Lewis, but winning three F1 titles is surely pretty low on the list of things that might inspire humility in a man.