False Modesty

I have a long-term problem with confidence.
Not with my self-confidence, mind you, more the way it’s projected. I’m as insecure as anyone else, but when I’m good at something, I know it.
Let’s take learning. When I was in school I was an exceptional student. So exceptional I was allowed to skip grades twice, and ended up graduating high school at 16. While some of the other students struggled to understand a new concept in maths, I’d understand it almost instinctively. I didn’t study for tests and then did as well or better on them as the kids who spent hours reading up.
I can go on and on. The basic point here is that I thrive in the learning environment preferred by most schools. It’s an objective fact.
However, if I just go out and say I’m a very intelligent individual, people will likely think I’m a bit of a prick. Heck, I’ll sometimes feel guilty about it.

It’s not like I go around saying I’m better than anyone else. For instance, I’m well aware I am fortunate to learn in the way I do, and that other people would excel with different learning styles to a degree I might not.
Even when looking at someone who definitely has a lower intelligence, I don’t think I’m a better person than them. I value honesty, kindness and empathy a lot more than intelligence, and in fact most of the people I admire are probably not as smart as me.
Still. I felt uncomfortable writing “someone who definitely has a lower intelligence,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if you rolled your eyes when reading it, even with all my caveats.
Why is that?
Why is it that as a society we generally prefer people to go “oh gosh I look so ugly!” than to proudly declare “I look super pretty right now”?
(Yes, I know not everyone is like that, but the general trend points in that direction.)
I feel the need to clarify again that I don’t mean when someone is full of themselves and think a particular thing makes them a better human being than everyone else. I’m referring to occasions when someone eschews false modesty and without arrogance acknowledges the fact that yes, they have a great body, or are better at a sport than their peers.


Maybe it’s the comparison. After all, if I say I’m very smart it’s not as big a deal as me saying there’s a good chance I’m the smartest person in a room at any given moment.
Haha. Maybe that’s going too far. Not the smartest person in a room, but definitely on the higher end of the ladder. Is it so repellent to hear or say something like that just because it reminds us that it means we are not all created equal, and all have different strengths?
Do I feel uncomfortable saying I’m a more naturally talented writer than most people I know because it reminds me the opposite is true for other things?
Does acknowledging my instinctive talent for understanding music also make me think of how terrible a lyricist I am?
That makes some sense. We all have different talents and weaknesses which make certain things easier to us. It doesn’t mean there are doors that will always remain closed to us, as hard work tends to matter more than talent, but it does mean more effort is required to open them.
It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, though. We enjoy the fantasy that everyone has the same opportunities, and that if someone can do something we should be able to do it as well.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’m just trying to think through something that’s been bothering me for ages.
I was raised to deal with false modesty, and pretend I’m of average intelligence, average looks, average everything, and my reward for playing along is getting to see everyone else also pretend to be completely ordinary.
In the last few years I’ve tried to do away with that. If someone compliments me on my looks, intelligence, or natural talent, and I know they’re right, I just thank them. Then in return I make sure to compliment others on the things they are better at than me.
I make sure to remind them they are kinder people than me, that they are better songwriters, that they are exceptionally talented.
It’s gone pretty well. As much as we all play along, most of us turn out to be equally unhappy at pretending no one’s special.
Try it out. Stop lying to yourself about the things you’re better at than other people, and don’t be afraid to also highlight the things others are better at than you.
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2 thoughts on “False Modesty

  1. Danielle says:

    I think it is important to remember that while some of us excel in some areas and some are considered more intelligent by society than others that there is always something other people can teach you. That is why humility is important, it is ok to acknowledge that you are good at math or standardized tests or reading and writing but proclaiming this to everyone is not always the best way to connect with other people. As a society we could be more tolerant of people being exceptional in specific areas and I think saying thank you when someone gives you a compliment is better than denying it with the false modesty you’re talking about. Also, it’s good to recognize that intelligence is mostly a cultural thing. I think that if I say I am more intelligent than another person that I am not thinking of other people complexly because while I might know more about evolution or poetry or something, there is almost certainly some topic or something that they know more about than I do. Everyone has a story and there is something we can learn from each person’s experience. I realized while writing this that I might have not picked up on the point you were making here and I apologize for that, and I hope I made my thoughts coherent here, I’m not a great writer. I think you seem like an awesome person and I love reading your blog. DFTBA 🙂

    Like

    • Liliana says:

      Eh. I made sure to specify several times that I only excelled in school because I was lucky enough to learn in the learning style preferred by schools, and that I don’t consider intelligence particularly worthy of admiration,pointing out that I admire people most for other qualities.

      Lastly, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by calling that intelligence. It’s experience and knowledge and talent, and has a TON of value, but calling it intelligence is stretching the word to a point where it doesn’t mean much anymore.

      Thanks for reading ,but I feel a bit disappointed if this is what you got from reading my post. It’s the complete opposite of what I meant to say, and a clear indicator I could and should have done a better job writing this post.

      DFTBA though 🙂

      Like

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