Yes, I have. When I look at an old photo or a clip from my calypso days, I think it’s amazing what I have done. And I know it’s not my doing, so I don’t have to be modest about it. Modesty is a learned affectation. It’s no good. Humility is great, because humility says, “There was someone before me. I’m following in somebody’s footsteps.”
“I don’t know what arrogance means,” she said. “You see, I have no patience with modesty. Modesty is a learned adaptation. It’s stuck on like decals. As soon as life slams a modest person against the wall, that modesty will fall off faster than a G-string will fall off a stripper.
“Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire,’” she said. “You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”
Maya Angelou,in an interview with Oprah
What I know about Maya Angelou does not amount to much. My brief obsession with African American Literature during my A levels led me more to the likes of Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin, and of course, the infamous Phenomenal Woman poem by Dr Angelou. I heard about I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, but my interest [sadly] was not piqued enough to read the book. I remember watching Poetic Justice, and making a mental note to read at least ONE of her books, but somehow, I didn’t. It’s sad that I only feel the need to revisit her works now, after news of her passing, but ahh well, better late than never eh?
Anyhoos, whilst feeling a certain type of way (similar to the way I felt after hearing about Uncle Mike’s [commonly referred to as MJ] passing – I listened to MJ songs everyday for a whole week) I came across an interview of Dr Angelou by Oprah, and these particular excerpts made me rethink my notions of modesty and humility, and why she deemed one different from the other. To me, modesty has always equalled humility. I thought it impossible to be humble without being modest and vice versa. I never thought of modesty as a bad thing. After several moments of simultaneously disagreeing and agreeing with her idea of modesty being more synonymous with hypocrisy than humility, I finally came to an understanding. I caught her drift, if I may be colloquial. More so, I agreed with said drift. All I did was search myself and look back on times when I was being modest. And by golly, it seems I have modesty down pat. In certain areas anyway. Some may disagree with my love for crop tops and call that immodest, but hey, that’s another topic for another blog post.
So yeah. I know how to DO modesty. Well, I’m just no good at receiving compliments, so I downplay my talents and gifts and take the focus away from myself, because, I don’t know! Really, you could tell me my nails are pretty, and even when I know I find them amazing – over-the-top-bananas – because- the-lady-at-the-nail-shop-managed-not-to-make-one-nail-crooked, I just mumble some incoherent nothings about them not being all that, or say “really? Oh they’re not that fantastic but thanks!” – I mean, who does that?
Me, apparently. But did you catch MY subtle drift in that little scenario? I KNOW my nails are pretty. I think they’re awesome. Yet, when someone compliments them, I go all “it’s not that deep” on them? I mean, would it be seen as arrogance if I just admitted to the fact that I like my nails (which was why I did them in the first place, hello?), say a nice, genuine thank you, and you know, end it there, feeling appreciated and err… less nerdy than I always do? Apparently not my style. Which was why after reading what Dr Angelou had to say (it doesn’t feel right calling her anything but ‘Dr’. Or ‘Mrs’. Blame it on my incurable politeness – see, no modesty there!), I totally re-evaluated my thoughts on modesty, arrogance and humility. And Google agrees with me, it seems – “being relatively moderate, limited, or small” (And we ALL know Google is never wrong)
No, no, no. Small? LIMITED? Where amongst such words is room for EXCELLENCE and ACHIEVEMENT?
Err… That’s right, nowhere. None. Zilch. Zero.
SO THE POINT OF THIS LONG DISCOURSE IS THIS: You got something you’re good at? Don’t fall prey to faux – humility which really tells you to shut up and live a life of smallness and moderacy. Embrace it. Really. It’s not considered arrogant to have self worth. Unless you really are
Kanye West an obnoxious and pompous person, because in that case, this post is not for you, and you need a fat plate of humble pie!
Special thanks to Dr Angelou for continuing to inspire and provoke thought, even in passing. It may have taken me this long to discover her genius, but I am so glad I have unearthed such greatness.
P.S: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is now added to my [already long] list of summer reads. Yayy!
I want to know what you all think. Is modesty just a ploy to keep up seemingly humble appearances rather than support humility? Do you disagree? I’m really quite interested in reading your thoughts!
Till next time (which may be later, rather than sooner, seeing as my FINAL exam in the world looms),