The Role of Modesty
[By Stever Robbins. Original source
Damn, damn, damn, damn. I've been trying to write this into a
coherent essay, but it just isn't working. Here are my main points.
Let me know what you think.
Here are my points, in no particular order:
- It's socially acceptable, and almost desired, to admit your
failures and weaknesses. Often, people even overstate them. That's
OK. Do it in public, and people actively admire you.
- It's socially awkward to acknowledge your strengths.
- It's social SUICIDE to overstate your strengths.
- At best, it's modest, at worst, courageous and admirable to
overstate your weaknesses.
- Most people are used to hearing people acknowledge their own
strengths via arrogance. Arrogance is an attitude of "I'm great, and
you're not." So as not to be arrogant, they throw away their
strength as well. What about the option of, "I'm great, and so are
you." [We're talking attitude here; not touchy-feely Shirley Maclaine
- A workshop leader makes a statement that "we all have
internalized shame, and people who don't are just in denial."
Everyone nods seriously. When someone denies it, the leader just
shakes his head sympathetically. "Poor someone, not yet ready to
What a double bind! There's no way out of this. What's a
mentally stable, non-shameful workshop participant to do? Stand by
while this guy convinces everyone to feel shame [even if they hadn't
felt it before?] YUCK!
- "X" is overall quite happy, enjoys life, and is very stable.
People even remark on it to X, in the same sentence they tell how
screwed up their lives are. Yet no one asks how X has done it,
though it is the result of a decade of explicit hard work. Even when
X points out how odd it is that "people don't ask about these
things," the people X is talking to still don't ask.
Why not? Does our society assume that stability is somehow an
innate, non-learnable trait? We certainly realize that anyone, no
matter how "together," can be traumatized by disaster. Yet somehow we
believe that stability, wisdom, and happiness are things we "search
for," and are somehow more innate qualities.
Conclusion: adopt an attitude of "I'm great, and so are
you." Ask people how they acquired their strengths, and acquire
more. Offer to share with them how you acquired yours. Make it
socially acceptable to be proud of our strengths, and proud of
overcoming out weaknesses. Make it socially unacceptable to wallow
Send comments to email@example.com.