C.S Lewis wrote, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”.
The culture of self-deprecation seems to have replaced the real meaning of being modest. The first time I realised I have a problem with talking about myself and my abilities, was in college. I was asked to describe what I believe I am good at, and I could not stop thinking that no matter how I say it, it is likely to sound conceited. So, I said that there is not much I am good at. The truth is, there is so much I am good at, but I was raised by a culture of self-deprecation. I was told not to tell people I am good at something, so I do not appear conceited. Or if I am given a compliment, I should not accept it wholeheartedly.
For instance, in Rwanda, we call you boastful if you showcase your talents daily. We do not respond positively to people who are confident in their abilities or in themselves. If someone compliments you, act oblivious or deny it, we believe that to be humility. We assume that the more we degrade ourselves, the more humble we are. Not accepting or acknowledging the good things we are capable of, is denying our self-worth, and most importantly, it is not humility. Socially, mainly women, we have been taught that humility is moral behaviour. So, what do we do in response? We criticise ourselves and degrade our capabilities. When we down-play our achievements or look down on ourselves, someone is likely to believe us. We are nurturing low self-esteem, and developing false modesty.
The thing is, we know how good we are at the things we are capable of, denying it means we are faking humility. Down-playing our achievements results in us undermining the work we put into attaining those successes. Our fear of showcasing our talents, thinking that it means we are full of ourselves, costs us various opportunities. We think the only time we can discuss our abilities is during job interviews or college essays. But how do we intend to suddenly acknowledge something we spend all day denying? As a woman, I already have a hard time with society trusting in my abilities to succeed in a given field. I have to work hard not only to achieve my goals but to also prove society wrong. I have to walk the extra mile so I do not stay in the background, not taking credit for my input. I believe I owe it to my hard work, to acknowledge my abilities without being perceived as a braggart.
Humility should not mean we believe we are capable of little or nothing. Self-deprecation should not be confused with true modesty. Self-deprecation often put me at risk of self-loathing. I doubted myself, and as a result, I did little for my community. It did not matter that I knew I am capable of doing a lot, so eventually I started to believe that I was truly not all that. I hope the more I recognise what I can do, the more constructive my actions will be. I am on a journey to realise and acknowledge what I have. I am learning to admit that I am exceptionally good at certain things. I am working on receiving compliments without a self-deprecating response, and I can see how necessary it is for my mental health.
I believe that “you also cannot use what you refuse to recognise is there in the first place”. I encourage you to give others compliments and when given one, respond without self-deprecating yourself.