Why So Immodest?

Some people can’t do anything without calling attention to it. Others stay in their quiet place doing things that are covertly amazing.

When I was 16 I had the privilege of traveling to Italy with some other students in my school. While riding the tour bus through the rainy Italian countryside, we stopped in a small town and went into a castle-like building that looked like an art gallery. The guide led our group up the stairs where against the far wall an old man sat hunched over a lamp. When we approached we saw that he was lost in his work, squinting through a jeweler’s magnifier which he held in place between his frowning brow and flexed cheek. In his hand, an ivory cameo was taking shape—a miniature work of art carved in ivory.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

The next thing I saw was his thumb, which because of a callus seemed twice its normal size. The man was close to 100 years old and had been working at his craft around 80 years, if I’m remembering correctly. The strokes of his tools seemed effortless.

And there he sat, silently. He never said a word to our group. He was too diligent creating beauty that spoke for itself.

I want to be the kind of person whose value is discovered. So many in our time leave everything out on the table and there’s nothing left to mine, no thrill in the search, no sense of wonder when the full picture comes into view.

Modesty is underrated.

Don’t describe yourself like this.

At a group gathering where people took turns standing and introducing themselves, a man stood up and said something about himself I’ll never forget. “I’m a renaissance man. I play drums, I write, I build things, I…”

I can’t remember the rest because I was bored and stunned that he would describe himself that way.

Source: Urban Dictionary (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=renaissance%20man)

We all have those friends who make amazing things and rarely share them with the world. When we discover their talents long after we’ve met them, we’re usually amazed and say something like, “I had no idea you were a painter! Why don’t you talk about yourself more often?”

The truth is, we’re happier that they don’t. There’s something about us that loves to discover, loves for things to be hidden for us to find on our own. If everything is shoved in our face all at once, we lose interest.

What’s true about people’s talents is also true about their sorrows. When people have gone through difficult things and are noble and quiet about them, our compassion for them abounds. But if they put their woes on display and reiterate over and over how bad they have it—how much they’ve suffered, how hard it is, how no one else probably has it as bad as they do—our compassion evaporates in an instant.

Covered things allure us. Underplaying strengths is attractive. Overplaying pretty much anything is repulsive.

One more observation about the “renaissance man” from the gathering: he wasn’t great at any of the things he mentioned doing. He was a novice. There’s nothing wrong with being a novice, but I have noticed that people who are great are usually humble about their work. They are inspired by people ahead of them, they’ve seen what’s possible, and they know that they still have room to grow.

When I was a teenager and met someone who played guitar, I had a method of finding out immediately if they were good or not without them knowing what I was doing. I would simply ask, “Are you good?” If they responded immediately with a yes, it was almost certain that they weren’t.