Since Soviet times, we have been taught that a person should behave with restraint, not shout about his or her virtues and, if possible, blend in with the crowd as much as possible. But is modesty really a virtue and not a vice? Columnist Elena Kolesnikova discusses the side effects of modest behaviour.

What is this modesty, the necessity of which we have been persuaded for so long that almost any display of one’s merits, skills, or simply one’s personality has come to be considered an impermissible boast?

In Soviet times it was imposed as part of ideology. Lenin and Stalin were great modest people, dressing inconspicuously, not thinking about themselves at all, only about the fate of the people. So everyone should behave modestly, merge with the background to the point of complete indistinguishability. Everyone is wearing hats, but why are you wearing a hat – the smartest? You can’t be “the smartest” in case someone takes offence.

Fashion designers say: “Brightly coloured rags ruined the Soviet regime.” But the power changed, but the problem remained. Long hair and flared trousers used to annoy everyone, then Iroquois, now shaved heads are annoying. What stands out is alarming and even frightening. Our society still taboo emotionalism and brightness: be modest, don’t disturb others.

Instead of striving for equality, we want to achieve sameness.

As a result, even those who are “entitled” are often unable to express themselves. To say something in full voice is difficult in itself. But what if you also have to express your own opinion?

I am a director and theatre teacher by profession. I work with actors and people from other public professions. I once worked with a young director. He had proven himself in the province and was invited to an important position in the capital. His new duties were to supervise the board of directors.

And everyone on that board had graduated from Harvard or the Sorbonne! How can you even say a word to them? He shied away from the secretaries, and even when sitting, he held on to his desk.

When he had said all this, stammering and interrupting himself, I asked him what he liked. “Dancing.” He remembered that he’d been to music school. “Sing, then,” he sang.

And suddenly a different person showed up – one who knows who he is, what he wants, what he likes, who has a voice! To speak about yourself, you have to know who you are.

Modesty? You can’t compare yourself to others all the time and tell yourself you’re inferior. Because then you can’t go out to them, show yourself, say, “This is me.” A modest actor will stay behind the scenes all his life.

So most of our politicians do not know how to talk to the population, to the electorate, although they should be able to do so. They cannot establish contact with others because they have no contact with themselves. And it is not only with politicians.

I think that such a quality as modesty simply does not exist. It doesn’t exist!

There is either a lack of individuality or the need to hide your individuality. Out of fear, out of habit, in order not to offend someone, and in order not to get something out of it.

But if you hide yourself all the time, you can lose yourself completely. Or never find yourself. Let’s not demand modesty, either from ourselves or from others. Let’s show ourselves to each other. That’s why it’s interesting to look at each other, because we are different, different. One with a Mohawk, one with a hat, and one with a shaved head.