Wordly Wise

Musings of an infinite soul

Humility versus modesty

with 5 comments

Oliver Herford said: “Modesty is the gentle art of enhancing your charm by pretending not to be aware of it.” I have always believed that modesty is pretentious. Acting modest is like pretending to be less than what you really are. However, I do believe in humility, which should not be confused with modesty. Modesty consists of belittling one’s own talents and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others.

Modesty often poses as humility. But such humility is false as it is usually social in context and hence external. True humility, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement to the self of our limitations and hence it is an internal concept.

I am aware of my gifts, talents, abilities and I see no reason why I shouldn’t declare them as such. At the same time, I am also aware of my weaknesses and do not mind acknowledging it to self and others. Being humble is being authentic to self. Being modest is being inauthentic to others. C.S Lewis once said, “Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” So aim for perfect humility.


Written by Manoj Khatri

18 July 2007 at 3:20 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I just love your essays, Man.

    Thanks again Tom…in all humility 🙂


    21 July 2007 at 6:10 pm

  2. You have distinguished between the two very well, young padawan :). Many do not realize there is a distinction, and even when one does, it is difficult to realize it in oneself. Another (related) interesting topic to ponder are the differences between arrogance, confidence and pride.

    Bob the Chef

    28 July 2008 at 8:27 pm

  3. In a situation when one refuses to acknowledge that they are responsable for a positive act, modesty provides a code that inspires not only ones self but others as well. You are confusing the real definition of modesty with a type of shallow display that is the result of ones need for positive attention. The later definition applies only to those who fear what it is to truely be modest, to desire no external reward or acknowledgement for the positive actions one takes. True modesty is an introspective reasoning that becomes meaningless without a purpose. Only with reason can one be sure of ones actions and there for be modest about them.
    The conclusison here is that modesty is not a “pretentious trait.” It is a level of understanding that, due to our society’s emphasis on individualistic achivement and sucess, many struggle to accept.

    Thats what I think anyway.

    Schaefer Chin

    20 May 2009 at 10:29 pm

  4. This article is very helpful.

    It corroborates Sherlock Holmes’ saying:

    “My dear Watson, I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much as a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”


    20 October 2011 at 9:12 pm

  5. From a Christian perspective, I agree that modesty is an outward expression but that doesn’t depreciate it’s value. The bible teaches us to consider others as better than ourselves and to not cause any one to stumble. Modesty is what causes us to behave in a way which does not lead others into temptation, which does not foster hatred and that does not promote jealousy or covetousness. Humility is surely more of an inward attitude that deals more with how we respond to experiences based on our own esteem. Both are distinct and valid attitudes. I would agree that humility begets modesty and not the reverse.

    Larry Melville

    10 February 2015 at 7:03 am

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