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Modesty: Say Less, Be More 

Profile: Mariano Rivera, pitcher

“Somewhere deep inside, he must know how good he is. He must know that he is one of two, maybe three, athletes in the world who are doing what they do better than anyone has ever done it before…but if he does, he’s not saying. Mariano Rivera is absolutely, unshakably humble, in a way that explains why he is not only the most feared pitcher in baseball but also its most deeply respected.” Thanking his teammates or God with such sincerity “that you wonder: Maybe it really is his teammates, or the Almighty, at work.”
(Trent MacNamara for GQ article “The Originals”,  page 283, November, 2006)

One of the hardest areas for a gentleman is the issue of self-promotion; a key aspect of gentlemanly behavior has always been modesty, and, in humor, self-deprecation. But what to do in a society in which it seems that success seems completely dependent upon self-promotion? Self-promotion, even campaigning by politicians, was frowned on in the early days of the republic, but no such restraint now takes place, and the idea of endless self-promotion has spread to all areas of society, especially business and entertainment. Even changing one’s name, the core of one’s identity – Ralph Lauren was Ralph Lifshitz – has become commonplace in a society in which nothing exceeds the value of personal branding. (Interesting to note that the king of self-promotion, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did not change his impossible to spell last name.)

Spin is so widespread that it is taken for granted, like breathing; the preposterous ads on TV, the ridiculous claims for new products, even non-profits have gotten in on the act, endlessly exaggerating the numbers of people afflicted with whatever problem they are trying to raise money to eradicate. (If one were to believe them, there would be no one walking the face of the earth that was not undernourished, sexually exploited, or lacking health insurance, with the possible exception of a few middle aged white men in Iowa, and nobody cares about them.)

One can stay in shape, and it doesn’t matter how many fat people there are. On the other hand, in raising money for a business, one must compete with all the people who fabricate, or, at the very least, embellish. What is a gentleman to do? And here we come to the root of the issue; the real key to being a man is to maintain your ideals – when there is no expense to doing so, such ideals are easy. But a man is proven when he must make a choice – to advance in the world at the expense of lies and falsehood, or to stick to what he believes in. And here is where the Great Divide exists – a man does not justify means with ends; for him, there is no justification for doing what he knows to be wrong. This does not mean that he does not engage in business negotiations – he just does so without lying. He may not disclose his full hand, and he may not volunteer information, but he never knowingly asserts something he knows to be false.

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