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.