Woman looking out on forest

In From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace, Rabbi Amy Eilberg considers how Alan Morinis, a teacher of Jewish Mussar practices, defines humility: “to occupy as much space as is my natural right in the world, neither to diminish my own place nor to rob others of theirs.” This definition fits perfectly with practicing democratic virtues. If we embody this sort of humility, we “lay claim to that which is rightfully ours, including speaking up for our views” while taking care not to deny others’ rights to speak up for theirs. How better to practice core democratic values like equality, freedom, liberty, and justice than with the virtue of humility? When we do so, we can’t help but recognize each other’s humanity even when we have difficulty valuing another’s point of view. Here are some suggestions from Eilberg and Morinis for how to practice democracy with humility:

  • Pay attention to how you share space with others. Do you spread your stuff around? Do you place your things on the empty chairs beside you? Do you move them when someone else enters the space? Do you diminish your own needs by squeezing or twisting yourself to make room for others as if you don’t have the right to be comfortable?
  • Pay attention to how you share air time in meetings or classrooms. How often do you insist on sharing your thoughts? Do you do so at length or succinctly? Are you aware of how your sharing impacts the time available for others? Do you defer to others? Do you act as if you have little to contribute?
  • If you notice that you often claim the available time or space, experiment with stepping back and inviting others to take their rightful place.
  • If you tend to think of your viewpoint as the only view, practice asking yourself whether someone knows something you don’t. Practice learning from others’ perspectives.
  •  If you avoid stepping up or speaking out, practice asserting your personhood, needs, and perspectives.

In partnership with our friends at Spirituality & Practice, we are sharing practices to help us all “practice democracy” from the inside out. This practice is from their free, downloadable guide, Practicing Democracy at Work.” Visit Spirituality & Practice's The Practicing Democracy Project for more practices and a wide array of resources.


Spirituality & Practice logo

Spirituality & Practice (S&P) is a multi-faith website devoted to resources for spiritual journeys. While respecting differences among traditions, S&P celebrates what they share in common.