Modesty is a virtue… but is too much of it a bad thing? In our country and many others, I believe society has inbred within us the heinous quality of over-humility, which can have detrimental impacts for people who practice it. Albert Einstein once told society that: ‘I have no special talent. I am just passionately curious’. Is he – one of the world’s most accomplished and decorated physicist – really speaking truthfully when he says this? Or is he just complying with an inherently pointless and old-fashioned etiquette of humbling one’s self to the point of insanity?
Observing my friends further demonstrates this point. When honoured at our school’s award ceremonies or simply complimented by a teacher, they don’t smile, they don’t seem pleased with themselves, but instead they keep their head down and look shyly around, as if to say ‘I don’t really deserve this award do I?’ The stigmatisation of self-aggrandisement means that my friends are perennially concerned that people are judging them for being arrogant.
Now, I will admit that this is not an issue for everyone. Many people have struck the crucial balance between casual modesty and and its extremer version. However, there are many more, in particular schoolchildren, who are overly humble and for whom this is a big problem.
Why do I say this? Well, for starters, I’d argue that the world isn’t kind to overmodest people. There is a phrase ‘blowing your own trumpet’ and it is, at least in moderation, a critical skill for life and one which ameliorates chances at auditions, job interviews and in other application processes. If you’re wanting to convince investors to get behind your new start-up, you can’t appear meek and unassuming. You – and excuse the cliché – really have to blow your own trumpet and have a sizable opinion of your capabilities. Else, they’re not going to think that you’re the best candidate.
When employers consider who to promote, they will be looking for the most suitable, accomplished, clear-headed and confident person for the job. With limited time and budget, they will pick the person who – and I apologise again – blows their own trumpet and makes themselves and their abilities known. It will not be the quiet self-deprecator whose only boast in life is a low estimate of his own importance.
Not just a problem for yourself, over-humility can be really annoying for the people around you. If your friend won the Nobel Peace Prize, the last thing you’d want them to say would be: “well, it was nothing really.” Just how fist-clenchingly, stomach-wrenchingly maddening would that be? Moreover, if they weren’t proud of their great achievement, how would that make you feel about your lesser ones?
Furthermore, humbling yourself to an insane degree in public can easily permeate into your private life. If you are constantly playing yourself down to other people, you are at risk of deceiving your mind that you are in fact an underwhelming person. By not accepting praise for your achievements, you deceive your mind that they are not praiseworthy enough. (You also deny yourself the great joy of celebrating them.)
Over time, such self-deceit can have detrimental impacts on your mental wellbeing. Not thinking much of yourself can cause and worsen depression, and thinking that your achievements mean nothing can make your existence feel less satisfactory. Just how many suicides could have been prevented if people simply thought better of themselves?
To solve this problem, I believe we all need to be a bit prouder of ourselves and others. Imagine the scenario: you have just won a writing competition. Are you keeping your head down? Holding in a smile? Don’t. Let a smile naturally broaden outwards and hold your head high. That’s not boastful. Or arrogant… It is a perfectly normal reaction to a piece of good news. Additionally, the world needs to develop the skill of blowing one’s own trumpet. For, after all, it’s a big world out there… and sometimes you’ve got to shout to be heard.