"Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others." ~William J. H. Boetcker
I promised it would never happen to me and I meant it. But the other day I couldn't help myself. "Remember the good old days, " I whined to my husband, "when exaggerating your accomplishments to whomever would listen was considered ill-mannered and boorish—not a path to upward mobility? Where did that humble virtue known as modesty go? It's just not trendy anymore." He harrumphed and nodded. When you start whining about the good old days, and your husband is capable of harrumphing...you are officially old. But I don't mind. I'm getting old and I know it for a fact: Modesty is dead. Like chivalry. And table manners.
We'd just finished listening to President Obama apologize for all of us in the country and then go on to tout his amazing new approach to dealing with everyone in the world. He pranced around, kissing rings and handing out ipods and making promises about all the things we used to do that we wouldn't be doing and all the things we didn't do that we'd be doing now—even if they weren't any different than what had happened previously. Afterall, he was the one they'd been waiting for.
I've always been taught that when you are a leader the buck stops with you. When things go wrong, you don't blame it on your team, you don't make excuses about being tired, you don't point out constantly that this really isn't your problem you inherited it. You suck it up and take responsibility you offer clear coherent solutions based on analysis of why it happened in the first place.
And when you are the leader, and things go right you give the credit to your team. And your predecessor. And your predecessor's predecessor. That is modesty. Instead, I was listening to the President talk about how ashamed he was of the country and by extension the people he represented. He acted ashamed to be associated with us and our horrible little ignorant, uncultured, inelegant selves. And doggonit, just so these important folks knew...he promised to fix us so we aren't embarrassing anymore. I guess that would cover the "change" part of his vision. It isn't Washington that is going to change, it is you and me.
I've also been taught that actions speak louder than words—what you say makes little difference, it is what you actually do that matters. A little less talk, a lot more action. Git 'er done. That is modesty. But day after day, the President is telling us things about his experience and his vision and his beliefs and how he is going to do this better than ever before—the most this and the most that— and then goes out the next day and completely fumbles the play or does the exact opposite of what he said he would do. I guess this is the "hope" part of his vision. He is hoping we stop at believing what he says and don't use it to measure what he does.
This makes me enormously frustrated and the thing that I've been struggling with the past few days is why people continue to support someone who is so completely immodest? Someone who would inflate his own accomplishments, write two autobiographies before the age of 50 and offer himself as the solution to the world's problems? Someone with a fragile core elegantly wrapped in a thin record of accomplishments and a thick layer of ego?
I work with people much younger than myself and have for quite a few years now. Most of them wouldn't know modesty if it bit them. They talk about how this project will be the greatest thing ever and the amazing accomplishments they've had over the few years of their careers. They talk incessantly about "my" style and "my" talents. People who disagree, or see it in another way are "stupid" or they "just don't get it." They don't listen...they just talk. Every thought that enters their head is an important or profound thought. Every idea new, cutting edge and ground breaking. They are the ones they've been waiting for. And if they are in a company led by people like themselves they are promoted on the basis of their self-promotion, rather than the results of their work. Insecurity-camouflaged-as-social-networking at its ugliest.
I've come to the conclusion that the death of modesty is not limited to this countries elite circles—it's pretty much dead everywhere. We may have instinctively known all this during the campaign, but I don't think his supporters did or ever will...because they too are immodest. I saw a new bumper sticker on a car belonging to a member of the young and the restless the other day that summarized this perfectly. It featured the "Yes we can" poster but underneath it read "Yes we did." Did what? Won an election? Big deal. Now you've got it...what are you going to DO with it?
Deep down, many are so incredibly insecure about what they stand for and who they are that they must constantly puff themselves up in front of others. They just want to be loved and noticed. That's all. Just like President Obama. Jules Renard probably said it best when he said, "It is easy for a somebody to be modest, but it is difficult to be modest when one is a nobody." There are an awful lot of people out here today, that believe themselves to be nobodies and as a result are trying to talk people into seeing them as somebodies.
It's no wonder that people who behave in this way support a President who is exactly like themselves. For them, the President just "gets it." The problem is when we lose our humility, our modesty we can not treat others with genuine respect. We don't ask or explain our requests, we demand. We don't actually try to understand, we try to convince. We don't strive to adhere to principle, we apologize for not being perfect.
I don't know when we lost our modesty. Maybe it was when we decided that no matter what happened, we were not going to get old and irrelevant and instead just simply tossed out the "older and wiser" part of the aging process. Maybe it was when we started valuing looking good over feeling good and abandoned our characters for taut skin and pouty lips. Or maybe it was when we started promoting self esteem over accomplishment and lavished ourselves with praise for simply trying to do something. Anything. You know. Hope. And Change. Over ideas and action plans. The stuff with consequences and learning curves.
What I do know is that we are weaker and uglier as a result. Without a measure of modesty, we are simply the rich, spoiled bratty kid on the block, who brags about all the things he'll never actually do. Who looks good but never feels good. And thinks himself to be God's gift to the universe.
I miss the good old days.