Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Modesty- a virtue?

I was having a chat with my boss the other day. As a prelude to telling me that I have to work on being less impatient with people, he started by telling me that I was the brightest person in the office and was often three steps ahead of everyone else. If he expected me to be pleased or flattered, he was in for a disappointment - I agreed readily.
"You already knew it, did you?", he asked.
"Of course. I'm not sure if it is three steps or one step, but I do know that I often have to wait a long time for people to catch up", I replied.
He laughed. "I really like that about you", he said. "you are so honest. Anyone else would have pretended they had no idea what I was taking about."
I shrugged. "Frankly, I see no reason why anyone should do that. Just doesn't make sense, specially when the other person knows it is only false modesty."
And yet, when I think about it, I realise that when you compliment a person, the reaction you are most likely to get is one of surprise.

Tell a person she is looking nice, and she is almost sure to reply, "This dress? But it is an old dress."
Most people would then veer off in the indicated direction, "You haven't worn it for a long time have you? Which is why I thought it was new", and the fact that the person is looking nice gets lost.
I, however, refuse to take the hint. "I didn't say I liked your dress. I said that you are looking good today. Maybe it is the dress, maybe not, but you are looking nice." Most people have no idea how to react to that!
Instead of going through all that charade, how much better it would be if the person receiving the compliment smiles and says, "thank you." You always know it when you are looking good, why not just accept the compliment, instead of insulting the intellegence of the other person by implying they are making a mistake in complimenting you?

Ditto with other things.
After an exam, when you ask someone how they have done, they are sure to reply, "Really badly. I'll be lucky if I pass."
When the results come out, it's a different story.
Me - "Why are you looking so glum?"
He - "Got only a C+ in the paper."
Me - "You got a C+ did you? Shouldn't you be rejoicing? After all, you expected to flunk."
He - "What nonsense! I was expecting at least a B."

I wonder if this is a universal trait, or one peculiar to us Indians.


Anonymous said...

False modesty is a universal trait - and one that most people have to some degree...

Manasi said...

omnipresent... without a doubt!


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Fiona - false modesty is the term I was looking for!

@ Manasi - in a way, it is relieving to know that the trait is not restricted only to Indians.

Davin Malasarn said...

My high school English teacher talked constantly about false modesty. After taking her class, I try to be much more honest in my reactions. It feels great!

Mariana said...

Hi! I'm Mariana and I'm from Madeira, a beautiful island which is located in Portugal! I'm passing by to tell you that your blog is so good! I love the background.
I wish you all the love in the world and if you don't mind, you can go to my blog and tell me what you think about it!

(Madeira, Portugal)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I've always attributed this characteristic to my upbringing; my parents are both from British extraction. It's just not very English to stand up and sing your own praises or recognise your accomplishments with pride. I certainly tend to focus on my failures far more than my victories.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ David - exactly! People who are pulling on a cloak of false modesty expect a particular reaction, and are disappointed when they don't get it. So much better to just be yourself. At least, I think so.

@ Mariana - welcome. The butterfly was drawn by my son when he was five, and I love it. Will definitely drop by at your blog.

@ Elspeth - my boss is British!!! Like you, he too tends to underplay his achievements, and I wonder why, because someone would have to be blind to not recognise both of you as exceptionally talented people. But I am pretty sure, you never pull yourself down, so you have the pleasure of someone else praising you.

Al said...

Plenty of Aussies share the trait.
Perhaps it is from our liberal dose of British heritage. Perhaps it is a more human than national trait?
Perhaps because of its prevalence, I feel it is very important to praise whenever praise is due.

dipali said...

I think we all need to learn to accept compliments gracefully!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Al - perhaps it is a Brit trait, because we too have inherited most of our systems from them (however much we may want to now deny it). And I definitely believe in praising where praise is due. Also believe in complimenting where compliments are due, even if I do not know the person. But that's me!

@ Dipali - like if I tell you again that you looked stunning in that green and maroon saree you wore during Christmas?

dipali said...

Thank you so much!


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