Humility, false modesty and (over)confidence

The late Donald Westlake, author of many hilarious books, also had a hard-boiled criminal “Parker” (best played by Lee Marvin in Point Blank). In one of the late Parker novels he is cornered, and one against four. He puts up his dukes (rather like Omar in prison in the Wire, but that’s another story). The leader of the four is surprised and says “you rate yourself, don’t you?” Parker shrugs and says “why not?”

It comes to me now, after the word “humility” is knocking around my ears for a day. I was told last night that I was lacking it. That may well be true (obviously people who lack humility are not good judges of their strengths and weaknesses!), but I reckon in this case the observation may have been wide of the mark (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, etc).

I was confidently (!) asserting that there were better and worse ways of organising meetings, and that the information deficit/sage on the stage model would have worked by now if it was going to. And I was listing some of the many many ways that things can be done differently. And I was getting push back, because the idea that a meeting wasn’t primarily about information-giving was uncomfortable (I think that’s why, but there were other factors).

Worse, imho, than humility is false modesty. If you lack the confidence to trust yourself when all men (cough cough) doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too, then you are not helping. You are being neurotic. And false modesty is just an emotional blackmail way of extorting more attention and affirmation anyhow. Says me. It’s demeaning and debilitating.

That is all.

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6 Responses to Humility, false modesty and (over)confidence

  1. robpatrob says:

    I have always found modesty to be highly over rated – usually valued by people with no talent or achievements

  2. Someone claimed that humility has roots (apols for pun) in the word humus or soil. He suggested humility not be seen as “being humble” with its associated luggage as an idea. Maybe we could see it as being earthed, or earthy, or grounded.

    Form such a place, we could access plenty of passion and without losing our sense of self and of our connectedness to the wider system, and indeed to those whose views we dispute.

    Whatever the etymology, this is a version of humility I find quite engaging.

  3. dwighttowers says:

    Hi Rob,

    Nietzsche and “slave morality,” maybe?

    Hi Johnnie,
    love it. Yes yes yes. Earthed/grounded etc..,. perfick.

  4. Antonio Dias says:

    I must second Johnnie on this! It’s not about being nice, or polite, or saintly; it’s about being grounded.

  5. leavergirl says:

    Um… I thought humility is mostly epistemological humility. Knowing that all knowledge (that matters) is uncertain. Being able to say, I don’t know. That sorta stuff… Oh, and of course, the other part is… admitting wrong and being willing to make amends. Somehow the two seem linked.

    I like ground and humus as well. Didn’t Socrates say, know that thou are full of shit?

  6. dwighttowers says:

    Thank you Antonio and Leavergirl (love the So-crates mash-up, btw)

    I realised that I’ve kind of tackled this already with an old post on “arrogant is better than smug: discuss”

    http://dwighttowers.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/arrogant-is-better-than-smug-discuss/

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