• Roxy SZN

Modesty vs. Humility

Until a few days ago, I thought humility and modesty were synonyms. I was confounded when I read somewhere that: “strength begets humility, whereas modesty bespeaks weakness”! What a curious quote!?

The writing continued: “Only he who is truly great can be truly humble”. The entire quote intrigued me to delve into dictionaries and even find several articles on the topic which I intend to share in this note.

The webster dictionary defines humility as: “freedom from pride and arrogance”. Humility like humiliation comes from the Latin word humus which means the earth or dirt. Whereas modesty was defined as: “The quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities”. Modesty is derived from modus, "measure" or "manner” in Latin. It means restraint in appearance and behavior: the reluctance to flaunt oneself, to put oneself on display, or to attract attention.

In a 2018 article in Psychology Today, Neel Burton, M.D., who is a psychiatrist, philosopher; and teaches at Oxford university claims: “To be humble is to subdue our ego so that things are no longer all about us, whereas to be modest is to protect the ego of others so that they do not feel uncomfortable, threatened, or small, and attack us in turn.” In other words, humility is internal and effortless, whereas modesty is external and intentional. (1)

According to a different article on a website called; “a person who is humble often has a low opinion of himself. Modesty is being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities.” The article further asserts that the “key difference between humility and modesty is that while modesty is merely a moderate stance that an individual embraces, humility goes beyond this. It is a virtue that allows the individual to look into himself and accept his limitations and flaws”. (2)

Wow…So humility is the greater virtue! Hence, the original quote above by M.S. Irani, was indeed valid. Based on my readings, I also have concluded that a humble person, normally has a clear understanding of who they are, they know that they are great, they tend to grasp the story behind everybody else’s behavior, and they react towards that behavior naturally and accordingly.

Contrary to a modest person, where they display a false sense of humility, so they can be appreciated by others. They subdue their false sense of greatness, because they are more concerned about how others view them, whereas a humble person is more concerned about himself and fixing the mess inside. I also learned an easy way to distinguish between a humble and a modest person. With a modest person, if one pays attention long enough, their pride and even lack of empathy eventually peaks through.

We all are WIPs (Work in Progress). I know I have a long way to go to becoming a real humble person, but the more I swallow my pride, the closer I feel to this important virtue. As always, I am grateful!




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