May 25, 2014

Thoughts on modesty - and why you should really kick this lame habit!

Modesty is an honorable trait.
Being modest is a non-threatening way to approach strangers and friends. No one wants to be the arrogant dude who brags about their great job or relationship when entangled in a conversation, right? There's no harm in being modest, is there?

I say: WRONG!

For a lot of us, it is this internalized need to down play achievements, unrelated to whether they were easy or fucking hard to obtain. We could have spent weeks, months or even years studying or working towards something important, and once it's done we can't even take a damn compliment for it. We feel the urge to point out that others, too, have done just as well or even better. We steer that focus away from ourselves, when really we should immerse ourselves in a sea of positivity and drink as much of it as we can stomach. We make excuses as to why it was particularly easy for us to excel and end up in complete denial about how much effort it actually took.

Really we want to scream out "YES, YESSS I AM INDEED A LEGEND OF A PERSON for cramming work and study into my life, working harder than anyone I know for little money, taking care of my family, devoting so much more time to lame/necessary activities than leisure right now, staying in shape and making myself look presentable even on days I just want to shave my head and die, stay mentally stable in all this madness and on top of that manage to travel and keep an open mind and see beyond the surface of people's lives why thank you", but what we actually say is more along the lines of "Oh yes, thank you Jonathon, but Peter over there...he is a doctor, you know and really my degree is rather simple and it's self paced and my parents do help me out a lot financially and I could really loose a few pounds here..." (I hope everyone just read this last bit in a British accent because I feel it really makes this essay!)

Modesty does not equal humbleness

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to hear people talk about their tiny achievements for hours, bragging and repeating themselves, much less want to do so myself. For me, there is a significant difference between being modest for no other reason than it being internalized through years and years of manipulation and being genuinely real and humble. I always have and always will believe that those humans who brag the most, yell the loudest, flood your social media feed are indeed the most insecure. Not a single experience is humbling enough to NOT be shared with strangers. It's a "Photo or didn't happen" kind of deal for these kids. I want no part of that.

I appreciate successful and happy people who take credit for their work (whatever this work may look like), but remain humble for no other reason than to not fall risk of personal stagnation. To acknowledge there are other people who can do things better than oneself, but equally appreciate one's own achievements, for me is a prerequisite for constant self improvement and has nothing to do with what I'm fighting here.
Genuine humbleness isn't the problem for me.

But modesty is.

It does nothing good. It's bullshit. There is no place for modesty in our economy. There never was. It's yet another way to manipulate our sense of self and make us live our lives as though it was a journey "towards" something better, more fulfilling, more presentable, more instagram-worthy, rather than immersing ourselves with pride in who we are and what we achieve in this very moment.

If I had children right now, I would do my utmost to help them be confident in their actions and aware of their accomplishments. I don't want them to be insecure with the constant need to brag, but I wish for them to be the best, most content versions of themselves, who can take a compliment where it is appropriate and CAN take credit for their work.


Speaking of modesty, it is hard to leave sexism out of the equation. There are probably billions of better examples to point out how girls and women are repeatedly taught to be modest, humble, shall not brag, whatever you want to call it, while boys and men are encouraged to define and build upon their self worth, but I can vividly remember this one below:

If you're in your early or mid-twenties, like me, you would have been part of one of the last generations that was able to afford having a stay-at-home parent, that parent most likely being your mother. How many times did you hear as a kid, that "Dad is working oh so very hard", while hearing nothing about how your Mom is slaving away, keeping shit together, keeping you fed and free of lice and stuff while still being a wife, a woman, a sane human with needs? I remember my own mother repeatedly reciting what a hard worker my Dad was, without ever giving herself credit. And don't get me wrong, my Dad is the hardest working man I've ever met, but he's on par with my Mom, who is the hardest working woman I've ever met.

In kindergarten we made Father's and Mother's Day cards, and the Dads all got the "Thank you for working so hard" poem, while the Moms were told how pretty they were.
As a five year old I didn't think much of it, but almost 20 years later I am rather insulted by how little acknowledgement there was for our Mom's work and achievements and how they didn't ask for it, not because they lacked confidence, but because it didn't occur to them. Because they were taught to be modest...

I could go on about this but I am way too irrational right now and need to read up on facts before I fire on about how willingly my male present and former colleagues spread word of their achievements while so many under-appreciated females weren't earning or taking credit for what was their creation. (head explodes)
All I know is that as a woman, I've been spoon fed by my peers, by uncountable movies and books, that I am expected to have it all, without looking like I'm trying or voicing that it's fucking hard. I'm supposed to operate everything in my life with ease. That, for me, is the definition of false modesty, and you know what - it can go and fuck itself once and for all.

And next time your inner voice tells you to be modest, tell it in the nicest possibly way to finally cease its fuckery.