The Value of Humility

In real life, people have forgotten how to respond to compliments.  Tell someone that you like his new haircut, and he’ll respond by telling you how much he hates his uneven ears.  Tell someone else that you love her new dress, and she won’t fail to remind you about the extra 5 pounds she’s carrying.  It makes me wonder how exactly these people respond to criticisms, if a courteous gesture causes them so much self-deprecation.  It also makes me wonder what the cause of this hyper-humility is, and what value it could possibly have for people.

I accept the notion that showing modesty, in terms of refraining from arrogant conceit, is a positive attribute.  However, I reject any implication that a person should look to counter every flattery made towards her/him by divulging an unpleasing flaw about her/himself, as if kind words were in need of a sacrificial offering.  If someone pays you a compliment (even if it’s just for the sake of being cordial) the only response you owe is a polite smile, followed by a simple, “Thank you.”  No more, no less.  There is no need for you to disclose any physical or personal shortcomings you may have, as this is sure to turn a nice gesture into an awkward situation.  But everyone already knows this, yet people still insist on turning innocent compliments into moments of redundant scrutiny of their own person.

There is a sense of masochism about the whole thing.  But, I suspect, not for the obvious reasons.  If you notice, every time a person tries to rebuke a compliment by revealing an embarrassing flaw, the one doing the initial complimenting immediately begins to offer up more praise to the poor bruised thing, until one trivial comment has been turned into an endless sea of adoration on behalf of the insecure soul.  Some are said to have a messiah complex, well I propose that even more have a martyr complex–in which affection and respect is gained not by any positive achievement, but through failure and humiliation.  Where a constant mode of self-flagellation takes the place of self-improvement; where compliments are sought by the virtue of one’s faults, rather than one’s merits.  After all, why else would someone willingly point out their flaws to casual observers, unless s/he knows full well that polite decorum demands pity on a insecure mind?  Perhaps this is an example of what Nietzsche had in mind when he spoke of the slave-morality affecting modern man; though I see no reason to suppose that this trend does not trace back to the antiquity of out species, for as long as man has been man.

And maybe we all just need to practice accepting compliments with a simple, “Thank you,” without fishing for further compliments thereafter.

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