Monday, December 28, 2009

Modesty, honesty and friends

To be yourself or not to be yourself? To hide your greatness, you achievements, or to share them with others?

Some, perhaps many, respond with jealousy and resentment to achievements that surpass their own.
This poses a potential down side to being good, and to being open about it. Will others not like me as much? Maybe it will be some of my closest friends?

I believe we all encounter this question at some point of our lives, maybe on the first time of getting a better grade in a test than someone else or achieving a great figure.

It is not a good idea to hide one's greatness. It is not a good idea to fake modesty.

Others may not like who you are, others may not like that you are better than them at something. Those others are not worth keeping around as friends. A friend is someone who helps you flourish, someone who encourages you to become the best that you can be and is there to celebrate it with you when you achieve it (and vice versa).

A friend is someone who loves you for who you are: YOUR sense of humor, YOUR way of thinking, YOUR taste in music, people, activities and the things you are good at.

Being open and proud of your achievements in communication with others achieves a double purpose: First, it encourages others to achieve the best that they can achieve and creates an environment where success is greeted with benevolence. Second, it allows others to know you and you to know others and tell apart the people who enjoy the sight of an achievement from those who look down at it.

Being honest requires courage, because so many things in our lives depend on how others feel about us and our actions, and yet honesty is the best way to get real friends who will love you for who you are and help you grow.

Give up being yourself, and you give up everything.


  1. Thank you for writing about this subject. It is very important to a satisfying life socially and psychologically.

    I see a trichotomy, with two false choices:
    1. False modesty (never revealing one's achievements even to one's closest friends -- that is, the individuals who share one's values and are interested in knowing about you.
    2. Bragging (boasting to any and every person about one's achievements, which is the act of a second-hander).
    3. Objectively communicating one's achievements (and failures) in a manner proportional to the level of friendship of the audience.

    The first commits the error of not communicating the facts of the case to appropriate friends (or employers, perhaps) who want or need to know.

    The second commits the error of communicating an evaluation ("I am very good at task x.") as if it were intrinsic. One's audience needs facts and can draw their own conclusions based on their prior knowledge of the friend making the statement.

    The third is indeed objective. This approach is one that stresses the fact of an achievement within a value hierarchy known to the listener, e.g., a close friend.

    I don't have a concise formulation of the principle involved, nor do I have a formal definition of the three alternatives. I am still in the grappling stage.

  2. I think this is a good point about the trichotomy, I'm glad you made this comment.

    I did not make the circumstances and manner of communicating achievements very clear and specific.

    When I said it is good to be open about it I didn't mean to hire a singing band to announce all over town that you got the highest online score on Packman... :D

    I meant that when the circumstances are right, then don't hide it; be open about it.

    The value can be spiritual (enjoyment from recognition by others) or material (in case of a workplace - claiming credit for contribution to an achievement) or another (I can't think of one now). Like all other communication there has to be a value one goes after. "Being open" does not mean "thy shalt tell the world about everything you achieve!"

  3. What really bothers me about the issue you raised is that most people attack achievements in general, especially big ones, but celebrate big achievements in certain areas, e.g., sport and technology. I hate hypocrisy.

  4. I don't know if they're hypocrites. I don't understand why someone would have one mentality in sports but completely different mentality in another field regarding achievements.

    I just don't know enough people like that.

  5. Very interesting read. And I liked the point that Burgess Laughlin raised, about never revealing your achievements even to your closest friends. I think I am one of these. Because I have friends who get super jealous when I speak about them. Even a casual remark about something good that happened to me or something good that I've been doing ticks them off and it's very apparent how jealous they are. So what should I so if not this? I used to think that may it's just me who has friends like these. But honestly, people just can't take the fact that the other person's done better than them at anything! This is the reason I've long lost hope of finding 'friends' who may be genuinely happy in your happiness. The closest people that come to doing that are my real siblings. That's it.

    "A friend is someone who loves you for who you are: YOUR sense of humor, YOUR way of thinking, YOUR taste in music, people, activities and the things you are good at." -- It's all very well to read (or maybe even write), but frankly for me now, thinking that 'friends' like these even exist seems just like wishful thinking.

    P.S. I'm not looking for advice on what I should do here. Just trying to project a scenario, which unfortunately in my case is true.

  6. Good friends are hard to find but it's possible if you are open about who you are and what you want and keep looking until you find what you want.

    My suggestion would be to keep the friends you have BUT two things:

    1. Search for friends who can be real friends, not those who are happy to surpass you and resent you (or worse) if you succeed.

    2. Be open about what you think of what they feel and do. Let them know you know how they feel and that you don't like it.
    It would not only feel like a million bucks to tell them the truth but also will stop shielding them from their own problem.

    I had a friend who used to eat her fries slowly every time our circle of friends went to McDonalds... why? So that everyone who finished theirs would be jealous that she had some left.
    When she would have failed at something or wanted something others have she wished they didn't have it. If I invited a friend over she would get jealous and want to be invited too and if I didn't she would try to turn my friends against me. Who needs a jealous friend like this? When her jealous needs are not accommodated she turns against you. Better move on and keep such friendships on a "small flame".

    P.S. I know you said you are not looking for an advice, I still hope you and others can benefit from my experience since I've been consciously dealing with this issue since I was 12 and have a lot of experience with the issue of modesty and friends.

  7. Ture for the most part, except that a friendship is a relationship that requires mutual interest. A person who just loves your achievements without you caring for theirs is a fan, not a friend.

  8. Well, I agree completely. Friendship is mutual enjoyment of each other's achievements.

  9. People who only look for admiration for their achievements but never take pleasure in their friend's achievements have a psychological problem. I do not understand it fully, but I've known two people of this kind; they have no genuine interest in others. They can listen to your story and end up making your story about them and their glory.

    I think it is part of a narcissist personality. So, they are not the jealous type as far as I've seen but the reality of other people's consciousness is unreal to them.

    This is a silly example that I just remembered, but it fits well enough. Years ago I was talking to a friend on the phone and I just hit my knee very hard against something by mistake. Her reply was to tell me that this is nothing and tell me how brave she was when she broke her arm in the third grade.
    I can't say much more about this since I do not understand it well enough, but I can say that this sort of self-centerdness is a psychological problem, whether or not that person realizes it, they are living in isolation because other people's mind is never real to them.

  10. Burgess, thanks for making the point that one should also share their failures as well as their successes with their closest friends. I have found that, for whatever reasons, many Objectivists (or students of Objectivism) feel that they can or should ONLY share their victories and should remain stoicly silent about their mistakes or pain. Perhaps it comes from a desire to live up to the ideal in the mind of others? I find this to be dishonest, however. While one shouldn't foist one's pain on casual acquaintances or wallow in it, one also shouldn't pretend to be perfect, or to have the perfect life, as not only is this dishonest, it leads to superficial relationships which may be pleasant, but cannot ever be very fulfilling.

  11. I see the problem with what you're describing as second handedness, not dishonesty (though that is part of it).

    This friend is not trying to share good things to celebrate it with you, but to build in your mind an image of a successful individual to be envious of - that is a second hander.
    Such friendships, when mutual, are a form of a competition: Who looks better, who has the better grades (if it is high school), who has a better paying job, a boyfriend/ girlfriend etc' in the hopes that if one's friend admires one then one can feel worthy of admiration - substituting other people's judgement for one's own.

    The dishonesty here is not primarily in the act of concealing one's failures but in what one is after in sharing the stories (not to celebrate, but to impress and induce envy).

    Apart from that, if a person in a true friendship (like, say, Peter Keating in his relationship with Kathy), it is not inherently dishonest not to share one's failures.

    In fact I see no good reason to share failures on regular basis, yet I do see a reason to share successes. Sharing a success has the reward of appreciation from your friend, which is pleasurable. Sharing failures can have value because the friend may help reinforce one's positive evaluation of one's potential and abilities or bring understanding to a frustrating experience - but this is not true of every failure. Some may be too insignificant, some may not experience frustration from a failure but simply see it as something to overcome and therefore may not need any encouragement. There could be plenty of reasons not to want to share a failure.

    I think the friend you are describing does not see you as a real friend but as someone to keep distance from and impress. [Even Keating was a second hander but when he met someone he did not fear and did not see as belonging to the category of "the big fish" he opened up to her].
    See my post on "jealousy and self esteem" on this blog, I believe it can give you insight on the psychology of such behavior as what you're describing.

    And in summary, I don't see anything inherently dishonest in keeping one's failures to oneself.

  12. Well, if the question is "to be yourself or not to be yourself", I don't see how you can really be yourself if you only share the highlights. That's fine for casual aquaintances (co-workers, etc), but if you take this stance with everyone (your family, your spouse, your closest friends) I think that is dishonest, as that level of intimacy requires a certainly corresponding level of honesty and transparency. Additionally, shared pain is lessened (just as shared joy is strenghtened), and sharing problems with trusted friends can lead to solutions faster than working through them on your own.

  13. I see it kind of like the Reader's Digest version of a novel vs the full, unabridged version. Reader's Digest is okay sometimes, if you don't really care that much about the book, but if you really want to get the whole story, you need to read the whole story.

  14. I don't agree that such a stance is inherently dishonest. Why would it be? There could be many reasons why someone would not want to share failures or problems, rational or irrational, but honest nonetheless.

    For example, some people are taught that to be a hero means to deal with one's problems on one's own. If someone takes this idea and applies it, there is nothing dishonest about their behavior.

    Another point: there is a difference between working to create a false image in the mind of others and simply protecting one's private space.
    Dealing with a failure or a problem can be a pretty sensitive and vulnerable time and it takes a lot of trust to open up to someone and share it with them. This is not the same with all successes... I can share my success at selling art with my dentist, for example.

    I don't think one should hide one's failures on principle, that would be silly, but I definitely see good reasons to want to keep them to oneself and only share them with someone one trusts for the purpose of solving them.

  15. Thanks for your interesting input, by the way.

  16. And no, this last comment was not intended to end the discussion :P It just sounds that way.