Thursday, December 30, 2010



An internet dictionary defines the adjective "modest" as:

  1. Having or showing a moderate estimation of one's own talents, abilities, and value.
  2. Having or proceeding from a disinclination to call attention to oneself; retiring or diffident.
  3. Observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress.
  4. Free from showiness or ostentation; unpretentious. See Synonyms at plain.
  5. Moderate or limited in size, quantity, or range; not extreme: a modest price; a newspaper with a modest circulation.
I like modest people. Not the Stepin Fetchit types whose pretense is hardly better than the blowhard show-offs they pretend they are not, but the ones who let their actions do the talking and their talking take a hike. Modesty is pretty attractive in my mind's eye.

But I wondered this morning what useful role modesty might play. Two fortune cookie nostrums came to mind: 1. The old observation that "comparisons are odious" and 2. the suggestion, "You already know what you think and it is therefore wiser to find out what the other guy thinks." And perhaps one more: Put up or shut up.

But is any of that really useful? I don't know. It does seem to me that the only way to learn modesty is by recognizing the brick walls that the experience of immodesty imposes. Modesty sees a wider tapestry, when it is not being faked. There is less "me" because there is some recognition that life is not about to sit still for the unexamined limitations of "me." Immodesty wins the battle, but modesty wins the war. But how could anyone find that out without hitting a few brick walls -- without experiencing the slings and arrows of war?

Trying to quantify or define or create a legal precedent out of modesty is, by definition, immodest. How's that for a koan?

Oh well, I like modesty and dislike anchovies ... that's about as far as I can go.

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