Nov 14, 2009

In all humility...

What is it about us that we, as a society, give inordinate pride of place to the virtue of modesty?

Why is it that we teach our kids to be humble, and not go to town tom-tomming their achievements?

Would we have admired and applauded Sachin the "master-blaster" if he had acted like say, Sreesanth, on the field? Ceteris paribus, if the only thing Sachin did not have was his trademark modesty, his ability to be superhuman but not appear as one, would we still have oohed and aahed at his copybook straight drives and punched off-drives? Or would we have gone "oh, what does he think of himself?" and dusted him off in our perpetual search for a more modest hero? In short, would we have been as proud of him if he had been overtly proud of himself?

Is it a coincidence that some of our most-beloved heroes, from Mahatma Gandhi to Narayanamurthy to Sachin Tendulkar, have been seen to be very modest in spite of achieving all that they did? Or is it, that we as a society, love to remember and highlight the success of people who don't proclaim it themselves? In the process, probably, glossing over some equally talented people who happen to score a little lower on the modesty-meter?

Is it because of our own insecurities? That we feel bad because we cannot achieve as much, and if someone  says so in our face, we would feel worse. And hence, we all gravitate towards those who do a lot, but don't speak about it as much, just so that we no-hopes may feel a bit better.

Is it because of our need for hope? If our heroes appear to us as super human, may be we would just shake our head at our own inadequacies and admire them. But if they have super human abilities but appear humble, appear like "one of us", we all get to renew our hope and think "hey, maybe I can do something too. After all, he has done so much and he looks like one of us..."

To put it more crudely, is it because we want to feel like better people than we are that we demand our heroes to act like lesser people than they actually are?

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying humility is a bad thing. If I have kids someday, I'd teach them the same too. But sometimes, I cannot help wondering if it is a tad overrated. This "aww-look-he-is-so-great-yet-so-modest" fetish that we all seem to have.

I can't help but wonder, if in our collective subconscious, we reject people who may have oodles of talent, but somehow come packaged with oodles of self-pride as well.

I can't help but wonder, if there has been actually another kid as talented as Sachin, but who got the short shrift since he went about proclaiming at age 15 that he will be the greatest batsman of his times... and some selector decided to "put the boy in his place" by making sure he never got the chance to do something...

I can't help but wonder, if as a society, are guilty of placing so much emphasis on modesty that we are blinded to everything else... or even whether we should even feel guilty about it at all...

after all, what is a hero that doesn't give us hope...

Disclaimer: I am an out and out Sachin fan... for a long time in my life, I used to select my friends on the basis of whether they liked Sachin or not... while I am not as vehement as before, I still find it difficult to get along with people who question Sachin's abilities, temperament, committment etc., So the above post need not be interpreted as questioning Sachin's virtues...

PS1: I wanted to write a 'dedication post' for his twenty years of international cricket, but found that whatever I wanted to say has already been said, and much better at that, by many people. So all I can say is, thanks for all the wonderful memories...


  1. I think the best advice on this matter is what Gilda Meir said - "Don't be so modest. You are not that great." I think ONLY the great deserve modesty. A modest average Joe isn't really helping himself, and neither is a proud great man helping himself. I've had this debate a 100 times at home and my favorite example is how Gandhi went to a business meeting with the British PM without a shirt or shoes and still was seen as an equal, but *you* can't even get inside the British Consulate in Chennai without a shirt or shoes.

  2. Clearly, T.Rajendhar disagrees with you.

  3. @ Idling:
    I agree with the first point, that you need to have something to be modest about :)

    but I fail to see why a proud great man is not helping himself? Which is what I have been wondering in the post...

    If Sachin woke up a 6 a.m. every day to practice and missed school to play cricket, why does the world expect him to say "it is God's grace", or "I'm just happy to be given a chance to live my dream"... Why can't he go "Damn, I slogged my ass for this, so I feel I deserve every rupee of the 100 crore endorsement deal I am getting"... forget the fact that Sachin may not want to say it actually...

    @ Anjana:
    TR is a great only in his own mind, and maybe in the blogosphere :)

  4. Now, considering I am not a sachin admirer, how did we get along well? Or did we ? ;)

    I have no issues with people who are aware of what they have achieved but if they look down upon others because of that, then it is unacceptable. You have to accord the basic human dignity to every human.

  5. The point is simple. We, the public, EXPECT the great to be humble. Why, I don't know. We just do. Rem the whole Abdul Kalam frisking incident? Dr Kalam was all, it's no biggie, blah blah blah. Had he pulled a SRK (I mean Mr. Khan, not u :D), fewer people would have rallied behind the "UA must apologize" banner, and Kalam would've gotten some bad press a la Khan.

    That said, the second rule applies more to conservative societies like Asia and Old Europe. America doesn't mind self-aggrandizement - Muhammed Ali was the perfect example. I suppose it comes with the idea that old money/ gentry doesn't show off.

  6. SRK - To understand why Sachin does things, I think you yourself are the best example.
    e.g. I consider your academic achievements to be phenomenal i.e. above par than normal students, but you have almost always dismissed this as 'I just did my best'

  7. @ Spidey:
    Well, I moved beyond the "we need to have common interests and likes to be friends" stage...

    Just to remind you...

    You watch serious B&W movies, I watch mindless 'colourful' ones...

    You cannot stand coconut in food... and I love coconut in my food... grated, oil, anyhow...

    You are hopelessly romantic, or at least claim to be one... I am romantically hopeless, or at least claim to be one...

    I can go on, but let's just say "my tolerance level improved" and leave it at that :P

    @ Idling and Spidey:
    1. When I talked about legends being a bit modest, I wasn't making a case for them to behave like obnoxious pricks... looking down upon people and throwing weight around etc...

    somehow, I cannot seem to explain it... so let me point out this interview of the greatest tennis player I have seen...

    he is not arrogant, he seems comfortable with the "greatest of all time" tag, but he is not overtly modest... incidentally, I still support Rafa!

    2. I am not denying the fact that people EXPECT great people to be modest... I am just wondering why? :)

    phew, that was a long response...

  8. @ V.Anand:
    bhai, how do you know I shrugged it off genuinely, or just that I did not want to piss people off with my arrogance? ;)

    jokes apart, the "phenomenal academics" part doesn't stand since one Mum Univ gold medal does not make one a world-class scholar... it is like being the best cricketer in Mumbai, which is way below the best in the world that Sachin is!

  9. @SRK
    But this is still phenomenal for people like me :)
    Its a good valid point you have raised and I enjoyed reading Federer's interview !