Is Modesty Good For You?

This is one of those posts that might polarize.  Before I make my point, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I don’t think extremes of immodesty, boorish bragging, putting down others, or belittling them to big yourself up is acceptable behaviour.  It isn’t.  There is no excuse for diminishing the talents and achievements of others.  None.   But consider the following…

It doesn’t actually lessen your own achievements and talents to acknowledge those of others.  Try it.  Do an experiment.  Use some science.  Measure your own talents and achievements, intelligence and capability, then praise somebody else, and then measure your talents, achievements, intelligence and capability again.  No change, right?  There never is.

Why, then, are we taught from childhood to be modest to the extent of minimising and diminishing our own talents and achievements.  It’s expected of us.  We aren’t even permitted to acknowledge our own remarkable qualities and surprising successes.  We’ve got to pretend it’s nothing; a mere trifle; something anybody could do.  People, that’s a big lie!

Who does this feigned modesty actually serve?  It serves the powerful and those in charge, because by minimizing your amazing uniqueness, they get to justify their power, wealth and position.  That’s a self-justification, though, isn’t it?  In putting you down, all they are really doing is desperately shoring up their own status.  Another big lie.

We’re told that if we celebrate our own talents in any way, we’ll make others feel bad.  Why should they feel bad because of something you can do?  It says precisely nothing about whether they can do it too.  If they tried, they might succeed and have even greater talents and more spectacular achievements and we’d both be cheering.

But it’s easier to pretend to be hurt by hearing of somebody else’s successes than it is to try and do the hard work to succeed on your own terms, isn’t it?  They use “feeling bad” as a way of avoiding actually having a go.  Yet, because of their choice to employ avoidance tactics, we’re all somehow supposed to pander to their lack of self-confidence and hide our own lights under a bushel.  Why should we?

I am all for building people’s self-confidence, as regular readers will know.   But building theirs up shouldn’t mean you have to knock yours down.  Modesty only prevents people learning about all the wonderful and astounding talents you actually, truthfully, authentically possess.  What’s the use in that?  I’m not saying you should shove your achievements down everybody else’s throats, but why be coy?  Learn to take a compliment by thanking the giver sincerely and leaving their compliment standing.  Don’t try to imply they’re wrong or that they’re flattering insincerely.  How insulting would that actually be?

Learn to feel good about who and what you are.  You’re pretty remarkable, just by having more “you-ness” than anybody else.  Modesty is a deceptive act.  You know you are capable of good things, but you misrepresent yourself as incapable.  That’s just dishonest.

Learn to feel joy at other people’s achievements.  Know that by sharing in their celebration, you are both enriched and nobody need feel diminished.  Feeling diminished is a choice that nobody need make.

If you’re a parent, don’t commit the unforgivable sin of ignoring your child’s proudest achievements, which they may have fought hard to accomplish and which may have cost them quite a lot of time, heart, soul and spirit, as if they didn’t mean much at all.  Some parents believe this keeps their kids grounded and prepares them for life’s disappointments.  What a criminally abusive approach that is!  It’s like saying you should pre-beat your children to prevent naughtiness or to pay forward for naughtiness to come.  Success is in the here and now.  Why diminish or wholly ignore a child’s success just to pay forward for future failure?  How do you even know they will fail significantly?  Is that what you wish for them?

All that such parental behaviour really does is undermines the child’s confidence permanently.  Like crumpling a sheet of paper, you can never put it back to how it was before it was crumbled up.  The creases will remain.  One of the greatest sources of childhood stress, which forms unbreakable patterns that children will carry forward into adulthood, possibly considerably shortening their lives and contributing to feelings of unhappiness and chronic depression, is the almost unwinnable game of trying harder and harder to impress (or even be noticed by) a parent who is doggedly determined not to allow their child to “become big headed”, by single-mindedly diminishing their every achievement.  “That’s nice, dear.”  Oh, those dreaded words!  Or, “that’s very good, but your brother got an A in his spelling test”.

Be realistic about this; completely realistic.  You are remarkable.  You are entitled to state it as fact.  It is a fact.  You should not feel social pressure to pretend otherwise.  It should be everybody else’s own problem to deal with your greatness, not your problem to prevent them having to deal with it.  You’ve worked hard and earned your achievements.  You have the right, as a human being, to simply, openly, honestly acknowledge yourself for what you are.  Nobody should ever take that away from you.

Modesty is not good for you.  In fact, it’s a pernicious lie that corrodes and destroys your self-confidence and potentially damages your mental health.  It’s as much of a lie as pretending you have talents and achieved things you really haven’t, only in reverse.  There is no more honour in pretending you have no special characteristics and gifts than in pretending you have characteristics and gifts you really do not have.  The truth will out.

To the devil with modesty!  If you’re good at something, anything, don’t hide it.  There is no good reason you should and many good reasons why you shouldn’t.  You don’t need anybody’s permission and approval to be who you are.



About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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4 Responses to Is Modesty Good For You?

  1. Phil says:

    Hi, this is a really interesting article. Aren’t there times, though, when people do legitimately feel bad upon hearing about the achievements and talents of others? The idea that we should proudly display that which we’ve done makes sense to some degree, but much of what people achieve is due to how they’ve been prepared in life, through things like a good education, biological traits, and other factors really beyond their control. In such cases, I can see how people who lack those advantages would really feel bad. Should we still avoid modesty if our talents are due to things like the wealth of our family, genes, etc.?
    Thanks for writing this, I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately.

    • Interesting questions and thanks for posing them. I think that if your talents are due to things like wealth and genes, then they’re not all that developed. Everybody can improve on what they start with and there is no actual limit to how much you can improve. I think you should always be proud of any time that you have attempted to improve upon your starting position. Nobody hands you a propensity to work with what you have and make it better. That takes personal motivation. Why should that be a source of embarrassment or self deprecation?

  2. Laure says:

    Very interesting article. I totally share your point of view for the education of children.. School doesn’t teach children how to be sel-confident, to shine their own way.. It seems to me that modesty, as it is a learned behaviour to some extent, relies on the cultural background. How is it perceived around the globe?

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