On October 23, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
“True merit is like a river: The deeper it is, the less noise it makes.” – Edward Frederick Halifax

We are on the cusp of another renewal of the Michigan State / Michigan rivalry. I always use this event as a reminder to think about the importance of humility.

The thing I love about the fans of our two extraordinary schools is how so many of us share common roots. As I told my old friend, Congressman John Dingell at a pre-game gathering several years back, “The best thing about today’s game is that a team from Michigan will be the winner.”

And that’s what always happens.

When you are successful, and you will be, always remember that the same combination of preparation and opportunity that brought you good fortune is how Abraham Lincoln defines “luck”.

When you fail, and you will fail, remember that humility has the power to quickly put you back on your feet.

So be humble.

William Temple writes, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

A. Whitney Brown puts it in perspective when he says, “There are a billion people in China. It’s not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a BILLION people. That means even if you’re a one-in-a-million person, there are still a thousand people exactly like you.”

Humility means respecting the winners and showing compassion for the vanquished. Because over time, these role are easily reversed.

Humility means thinking twice before you speak ill of anyone. Sometimes that’s hard to do, because a badly behaving person clamours for it. Take the high road. Karma always prevails. Allow it to do its work.

Humility means recognizing and celebrating excellence wherever you may find it and accepting nothing less when it comes to your own endeavors.

There’s a funny thing about celebrating excellence. If you do, you’ll tend to attract it.

There’s also a danger associated with winning: it can be easy to fall into the same culture of arrogance that former Coca Cola president, Don Keough, warns of in his “Ten Commandments of Business Failure

He told Spartan Jana O’Brien, “When you are associated with.. a great brand, the people just automatically endow you with a little bit more wisdom than you are entitled to have, and they give a little more deference than you deserve.”

Until you lose a few games.

There was a moment, early in my MSU career where I had the opportunity of introducing our legendary basketball coach to a room crammed with screaming fans. “How do you stay centered when you’re showered with so much adoration?” I asked before I took the microphone to bring him on stage.

Tom Izzo and I locked eyes in one of those coach / player gazes he uses when he wants to make sure you understand what he’s about to say. “Your yesterdays mean nothing,” he told me. “Underperform for a season or two, and watch the love evaporate.”

So be humble.

And remember the final moments from Patton, the film about the legendary general. Great moments of victory, like painful moments of struggle are temporary. All things must pass so make the most of the gift of each moment you are given in the present.

These are his own words.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

May everyone who supports an athletic team learn the gift of humility. No matter what the final score of any game may be, humility is the most important definition of a true winner.

Feedback welcome to or @MSUScottW on Twitter.


3 Responses to “Humility”

  1. Jim Moore says:

    Scott – Nice piece. I’ve used the Patton closing line many times in talks and book signings. I would go you one further, though, and say Walmart Wolverines is an unnecessary insult. I went to high school with a lot of those people in the Flint area. They didn’t have much to look forward to outside of the drudgery of the assembly line and mortgage payments but buying their maize and blue gave them something to belong to. I’ll never understand how working folks associate with U of M instead of our university that gave opportunities to us regular Joes, but I don’t reckon I’ll ever begrudge them that. I have enjoyed reading your posts. – Jim

  2. Gary Mescher says:

    Well said, from a Son of The Pioneers.

    I really liked how our Spartan football players kept their humility at the end of the game and didn’t go overboard with celebrating on an opponents home field. Maybe they learned something from Mike Hart’s (poor) example in 2007.

  3. Terry Brock says:

    Scott – I loved your post. I think that humility is, truly, one of MSU’s greatest qualities. I wanted to point you in the direction of this speech given at the 2010 spring commencement for advanced degrees this spring by Dr. Daniel Nocera, the MIT professor of Energy and Chemistry ( Before at MIT, he was a professor at MSU. He gave an amazing speech, but concluded with a testimony to the MSU graduate students that he worked with, stating that “I have never had students to this day…that worked harder than students at Michigan State” and that MSU “students are bright, inquisitive…and have no inkling of entitlement”, and finally, an equation: “hard work plus intelligence plus humility is the equation of success, and it is the equation of the MSU graduate”. He attributes this all to the Land Grant mission of MSU, and I think it could not have fit better with your post.

    Anyway, you can find the speech here:

    It is the second one from the top, “Advanced Degrees”. His speech starts at 23 minutes, and goes to about 43 mins, and concludes with the things I quoted above.