Modesty in modern times


There was a time when modesty was a celebrated virtue, but these days – when we are encouraged to be more vocal – what can you do if you are, by nature, a more shy and reserved person? Journalist Mariska Jansen investigates. 

Genuinely modest

Modesty means being prepared to do something without receiving any explicit recognition for it, and having the ability to not take yourself too seriously. You don’t see yourself personally as the reason for the success you achieve, for example, but rather the team of which you are a part. You are aware of the part played by the society you live in, or the genes your parents have passed on to you.

Modesty has to do with the collective, with a sense of being connected—your individuality is not that important. It’s also typical of modest people to feel an inner conviction. Philosopher Hans Maes writes: ‘Our moral intuition says that modesty doesn’t go together with inauthenticity. When we discover a person actually has a very high opinion of themself, we call that false modesty.’ The trouble with false modesty is that it’s hard to find out if a person is being falsely modest. It’s hard to tell the difference between acting modest and being modest.

It’s the motivation that’s important and that doesn’t show on the outside. Only people close to the person can tell. In addition to false modesty—where pride pollutes the virtue—there is modesty born from weakness. That’s a kind of humility that has nothing to do with unequivocally choosing to serve a higher purpose. For example, there are people who are always helping others with never a thought for themselves because they lack a life compass of their own. Yet modesty is not a weakness; it is a powerful form of being.

  • The full story ‘Modesty in modern times’ can be found in Issue 24.

Text Mariska Jansen Photography ©Brooke Cagle/


Read more in Issue 24