Humility and Modesty

You may have heard that "no one likes a blowhard." You probably also heard that "no one likes a person with no self-confidence." Both tidbits of advice have a ring of truth in them; the problem is to avoid becoming an overconfident braggart while also avoiding a lack in confidence. The trick lies in your attitude toward success, your wisdom, and your ability to accept and admire the success of others.

Humility can be compared with basic honesty. While these two traits could easily be individually worked on in their own right, they can compliment each other rather well as a team. Accepting your mistakes and being willing to humble yourself and admit you've made errors is an important part of being honest. If you look at humility as quality of one who is willing to lower his or herself when the need arises and raise others to their own level, then humility becomes an important part of making honesty a part of your life. With this definition in mind, humility is also an important function of wisdom and love. A wise person can see outside him or herself and admit to mistakes—or when it's time to let someone else get the glory—and humility also becomes an important part of sincerely caring about others well being (or at least not wanting to see others in a lesser position than their own).

Modesty is a feature that is either trumpeted as a trait that the modern world is so dearly lacking or to others simply a word that causes them to roll their eyes. While modesty is a good habit that can help you get along in society, I don't think that modesty is necessarily a trait that is intrinsically linked with a person's goodness (unless of course, you are being immodest solely for your pride over your "fine, fine body"). No matter what you think of this trait, take care to notice when you are being very vocal about your own accomplishments and when you are dressing in such a way that might offend some or tempt them to take you less seriously. It might seem strange to advocate practicing modesty, but people often get in the habit of talking too much about themselves or showing too much cleavage at the wrong interview; being aware of you decisions and how they relate to modesty can be an important habit to avoid accidental embarrassment. What you do at home or with your friends, however, is obviously up to you, and you should never let yourself get ashamed of your abilities or your body.

If you feel you need to work on your humility and modesty (and if you never really thought about it, you probably could benefit from focusing on these traits at some point), then there are some activities you can work on that will help you become a more humble person. While they mostly involve practicing the virtue—like most traits—you may fall short of your potential if you simply make a goal to "try and be more humble." The majority of people already believe that they are essentially good people and you will likely miss any lapses in your humility unless you are look for them (and are open to finding them).


  • Begin Complimenting on the Success of Others: This seems simple, but it's not always easy to tell people how well they are doing—especially if we feel they are doing better than us. Take every (honest) opportunity to compliment someone or comment on their good work. This could be something as basic as the way they are wearing their hair on a particular day or something more meaningful like their excellent work on a job or task, or maybe their own superb personal virtues.
  • Express Your Appreciation: This may sound like a simple kindness, but it's also an act of raising someone else to your own perceived level of importance—even if you are not consciously aware you are doing this. Make an effort to tell others how much you appreciate them, especially when you don't want to but really, really, should.
  • Actively Seek Out the Ways in which You are Wrong: Remember your recent arguments and confrontations. If you have never felt like your ideas or logic were on the wrong end, then you are probably kidding yourself. If you browse the internet, for example, you will find all sorts of people who think they live in a world where they have all the answers and that the vast majority of those around them are stupid and foolish. These people are wrong, and in most cases they are just as stupid and foolish as the next guy. On the other hand, you are going to be different. Pay close attention to the other side of an argument or any discussion where you disagree with the other party. Actively try to see things from the other's point of view, and if you feel positive that the opposing position is the wrong one, still try to find the valid points that they are making. This not only makes you a more humble person, but also introduces you to new ideas and makes it easier to help the other party feel that you truly care about their position, even when you disagree with them.
  • Take Every Opportunity to Give Credit where it is Due: A lot of people like to do this because it makes them look like a "big man" (or woman). But sincerely wanting others to receive due credit is an important part of being humble and honest. When working on this trait never miss an opportunity to acknowledge the help you received in your successes, and also point out those instances when all the credit really belongs to another person.
  • Stop Inflating Yourself: You will have plenty of opportunities to express your deserved self-confidence, but you might benefit from consciously trying to report the truth about yourself rather than bragging about your abilities. For example, if someone asks if you know a lot about fixing cars (and you do), instead of saying something like "I can fix just about anything with the right tools," you might say "I've got quite a lot of experience with fixing cars. I can do most jobs if I have the right tools and manuals, and have enough time to figure it out." The later might be more wordy, but it also is a more humble, direct statement of the truth. This is great practice for personal relationships, although in the business world it seems that everyone is pressured to inflate their own worth or their product's (or at least accentuate the positives, as it were).
  • Take an Inventory of Your Wardrobe and Your Daily Wear: Unfortunately, it seems our society has given women more erroneous zones for them to worry about, so this may seem to be a more vital activity for the female gender. Nevertheless, men can benefit from going over their wardrobe and seeing if they have a good combination of professional and casual attire, and work on observing how well they dress for the activity, whether their attire is too casual or too formal. Women should also be aware of how revealing their wardrobe is. Nothing is wrong with being proud of your body, but you should make yourself aware of how many options you have in collection, and whether you remember to dress a little more "modestly" when you visit your more cranky relatives (for instance).

Your Record

Whenever you significantly alter the truth, whether this be a plain lie or a truth with "positive spin," you should mark yourself at "fault" for the day. If you find yourself bragging or diminishing the success of others for your own benefit, then you should mark yourself at fault. If you experience a moment where you think you truly are better than someone else for superficial reasons, mark yourself at fault (I would posit, however, that you should get out of the habit of focusing on ways that you are "better" than others, no matter how well deserved). When focusing on this trait, choose an activity above and mark yourself at fault whenever you forget or fail to complete the activity, or fail to meet a goal.


To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.

Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father of America, One of the Most Exemplary Models of the "Self-Made Man"

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

Albert Einstein

The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.

Socrates, Revered Philosopher of Ancient Greece

Golden Mean

Humility, modesty
Obsequiousness, docility, abasement

Recommended Reading

The Power of Humility: Choosing Peace over Conflict in Relationships — by Charles Whitfield, Barbara Whitfield, Russell Park, and Jeneane Prevett

This book focuses on how humility can help those who live in damaged relationships. The author says one doesn't need to be a doormat in order to be humble, and interprets humility more as being authentic and honest.

Radical Honesty, The New Revised Edition: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth — by Brad Blanton

This book is more controversial than some others, as this author promotes a very proactive, hard-core philosophy of honesty. If you really want to transform your ability to be honest with yourself and others, then you want to see if this book is for you.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Modesty is that feeling by which honorable shame acquires a valuable and lasting authority. Cicero