Modesty and Honesty
22 Nov 2004
I had a full weekend, and I’m feeling a bit lazy. So rather than write about one of the new topics bouncing around in my head, I’ll make a sequel to my last entry, which generated an absolute fury of comments. I’m thinking that there may be so many at this point that some people don’t want to read any new ones.
So this entry consists mainly of a comment by Wayne (the original inspiration for the last entry):
John, you neglected to mention that we were also talking about ‘false modesty.’
The Chinese laugh at the concept of ‘false modesty.’
Here is some more food for thought.
Suppose Garry Kasparov (the great Chess champion) walks into the room and a journalist asks him, “Garry, are you a talented chess player?”
And Garry responds, “I am so-so.”
Question: Did Garry just lie?
It is quite obvious that Garry’s chess ability is better than ‘so-so.’ He is in fact not telling the truth because his ability is far beyong ‘so-so.’ Therefore, it is fair to declare Garry a liar, i.e. he is not telling the truth.
However, most Chinese would think it is absurd to say that Garry is lying because being modest exempts one from lying!
Hmmm, I guess the question here is: did the journalist honestly not know how good Garry was, and if not, did Garry know (or suspect) this? That would make the difference between an intent to deceive and polite modesty.
On the subject of modesty, I find Chinese modesty tiring. I know that it’s an important part of their culture, so I do my best to adopt it. But I feel so fake deflecting compliments with formulaic responses every time when I’d rather just smile and say thank you.
Some Chinese people would probably argue that it’s perfectly fine for me to just say thank you, that nowadays some Chinese people do that. But I feel like it’s not the norm, and I don’t want to just play my foreigner card; I’d like to handle these social situations the Chinese way when possible.