December 19, 2004

I should write for the NYT more

There comes a time in some men's lives when they feel compelled to write a short piece on the rhetoric of the word "humbled". Me, I put it on my blog. Christopher Caldwell, on the other hand, got his published in the New York Times Magazine. His came out later, but even I'll admit it makes more sense and is better written. Someone give me an editor!

Posted by Felix at 06:40 PM GMT

I think if you were paid a grand or so for your article you'd put in more effort too. But in any case, I've never understood the confusion about humbled. It's like saying" I'm not worthy" when somebody says you are. Is that social convention so difficult to understand? It's been used for the longest time.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 19, 2004 08:15 PM

It's all an admission of frailty. When Bush says he's humbled by the "trust and confidence of the American people," he's admitting he's ashamed that he won't always live up to it and that he will err. Similarly, when someone is humbled in defeat, it means he wasn't equal to the contest. We all make mistakes, and we are most likely to be reminded of our inadequacies when we have been defeated but also when we are being praised or elevated.

I'm much more interested in the difference between modesty and humility. I think a possible definition of modesty is to admit to having grievous personal faults and unimpressive virtues, whereas true humility might entail actually enumerating one's shortcomings.

Posted by: Sterling on December 19, 2004 08:36 PM

Re modesty vs humilty. Can you think of a famous person who is/was modest but not humble? Humble but not modest? Perhaps for the latter we can propose Jesus. Claiming you're the son of God is not exactly modest, though he went about it with the utmost humility.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 19, 2004 08:58 PM

Modesty is basically saying and/or believing that you don't amount to much. "No politician is modest" is what philosophers would call an ex ante synthetic truth. Modesty in general is hard to find, which is why many people (including myself, on particularly misanthropic days) think that it doesn't actually exist, and that all modesty is actually false modesty.

Humility is something found quite a lot in various religions, and I have a feeling that expressions of humility by politicians often consciously or unconsciously echo expressions of humility by religious leaders.

Posted by: Felix on December 19, 2004 09:26 PM