Modesty involves breaking out of a way of experiencing life rooted in comparing yourself with others.
Part of what is sad about Jeff’s situation is that, in putting himself at the centre, he gets in his own way. Even though he’s in a museum full of great art, Jeff can’t really appreciate any of it. Someone who doesn’t care so much about coming off as smarter or more refined than others can become engrossed in the artworks or be moved by them without the constant distraction of sizing himself up.
I hate telling people that I write about modesty. (…) It’s because modesty too often feels like a repressive, cranky killjoy that masquerades around as a ‘virtue’. But when it feels like something worth having, it becomes less like the old cover-yourself-up-and-keep-quiet kind, and more like a way of breaking out of the blinders that experiencing life in a self-regarding way can impose.