A Modest Proposal
Are we being responsible and content with what we have, or are we being profligate and/or envious?
By Douglas Daugherty
“We do not very often come across opportunities for exercising strength, magnanimity, or magnificence; but gentleness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are graces which ought to color everything we do. There may be virtues of a more exalted mold, but … these are the most continually called for in daily life.” —Francis De Sales
To be attractive is one thing. To be alluring is another.
If one chooses to “show off” a skill or quality — be it wealth, homes, accomplishments, possessions, power, or attractiveness — most human hearts are at least uncomfortable and at worst envious and covetous.
We know what it’s like to be around someone who brags all the time. It gets old. We mumble to ourselves, “Please shut up. I’ve heard all I can stand.”
“Modest” comes from the Latin modest-us, meaning “keeping due measure, moderate.” It is from the root word modus meaning “measure.”
This word “modesty” is something we are uncomfortable with in our popular, media-driven culture. To not be measured in our own person and humble in our own resolve begets pride and an odd infatuation with that which should be covered. A resolve is an inner commitment to a value that we know is difficult but for our good: sort of like saving our money, or not giving ourselves to indulgences, like booze, gambling, or promiscuity.
The star athlete is praised when he gives the credit to his team and his coaches. The star quarterback who says “I won this game” and gives no measure of credit to others creates a feeling or thought that diminishes the person, if not the accomplishment.
To be modest is something old, perhaps ancient, that comes out when we say, “They live in a modest home,” meaning they COULD afford something grander, but don’t. Or when we say, “He/she lives on a modest income.” We don’t mean they’re poor, or that they’re rich, but somewhere in the middle. It is a “measured” choice to display humility before God and man.
The young don’t get this. The old value it immensely.
Living in a showy way only creates envy and covetousness in others. Could this be why at the root of so many social problems are economic inequality and ultimately the call for the redistribution of wealth, with a host of liberty-pruning acts, laws, and rights following close behind?
What I’m trying to get at is the lost sense of responsible living in a consumer-driven culture. Are we being responsible and content with what we have, or are we being profligate and/or envious which leads to recklessness, debt, or greed?
This all goes to social questions, but, even more so, to the most personal questions. Should we show that which should be held privately and with great care, or do we market it to the world with every fashionable trend?
We cannot help but want to be loved and to find some sense of security, be it interpersonal or institutional. We all want to be accepted by someone or a group/institution. Rejection hurts. It can create shame and even retreat, perhaps even self-loathing or depression.
This creates great friction for those who are not secure in their sense of God-given self-worth. You are worth something … you are even worth any price God can pay to show his love and lovingkindness, even in our darkest and dullest moments.
As we venture into this new year, we are in ever-changing times. No one knows what the new normal is. Our community is a changing community. How well will our leaders lead us into the daily arrival of change, adversity, and opportunity? Will it be with wisdom or folly? Who we choose to lead us by our votes this year will tell us much about who sees the lie of free abundance or the truth-measured calculations of what is really best for as many as possible, delivered by the most appropriate source. The government can’t do everything. There is the private sector, where nonprofits, churches, and virtuous institutions and individuals can and should rally. How you meet a need is just as important, if not more important, than who or what meets the need.
Here’s a word for you that everyone in a free republic should digest and internalize: “meretricious.” Meretricious means “apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity.” In older times the word “relates to or is the characteristic of a prostitute.” Being modest is the antonym of meretricious. It is “not modest.”
And what is a prostitute? Someone who offers you something pleasurable, wrapped or unwrapped, that in truth should not be offered for money: themselves.
And isn’t that where we are? From fashions and relationships to lifestyle and public policy, we wrap things in promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled.
The answer to this conundrum is not personal acquiescence, complicity, or grandstanding but humility and modesty. Humility is the quality of NOT thinking more of ourselves than an awareness of our many failures allows. Humility is the virtue that supports, births, and nurtures modesty.
Whether it’s the “Bring Back Better” profligate proposal of the Biden administration or the world of pornography and prostitutes, it’s all the same. It’s all promises without measure. It’s a false hope. There is no modesty. The prostitute and the government promise to give you what you covet without shame. What should be a disgrace is instead celebrated by the untold millions who make and consume pornography/untethered sex, or the voting members of Congress, false teachers/preachers, and creatives who are selling us an illusion that will never work and will eventually fail.
“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” —Proverbs 11:22
The $3.2 trillion dollar Bring Back Better plan is like the teenage girl who doesn’t quite realize she’s a woman and shows more than she can deliver and ends up impoverished of security and self-esteem. The man, whatever age, who lets his limbic system get ahead of his better judgment (if he has any) is no better. Lust is not love. And pandering to the masses is not sound governance.
Mr. Biden is a pimp of sorts, and we all know what pimps are.
Young people are being pimped by a popular culture that is waxing strong on intimacy without covenant.
Both lead to a brokenness. Some of it can’t be fixed readily. Know thyself and know the promises of prosperity without merit, and you will know the modest way.
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