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Modesty (from “being modest”, “withdrawing”, “contenting oneself”, “foregoing”) is synonymous with “frugality”, “undemanding”, “simplicity”, “restraint”. It can relate to the nature of a person (= modesty as a character trait) or just mark a certain behavior (= simple lifestyle, renunciation of luxury ). In the positive assessment, it forms the counterpart to terms such as “addiction to recognition”, “arrogance”, “immodesty”, “excessiveness” or “pompousness”. In a mockingly derogatory tint, it can be found in phrases such as “a modest achievement”, “gifted with a modest intelligence”, “coming from a modest living situation”. Self-deprecatingly one speaks of “my modest share” (= small share), “my humble person” (= yours truly), “my humble contribution”, “my humble gift” (= souvenir / donation).

A person's claim that he or another is "humble" can

  1. a voluntary self-restraint,
  2. an involuntary (possibly “fateful”) restriction of personality or living conditions or
  3. Irony or insincerity


Word history

In terms of linguistic history, the word modesty is derived from ahd. Bisceidan → mhd./nhd. modest . In medieval legal language, it expressed a judicial decision and took on the meaning of "give notice", "allocate", which can still be found today in the phrase "my modest (= my modest) share". In the current language of the law firm, this form of statement is still modestly present in the way of speaking to someone negative .

The reflexive " being humble" follows the meaning "let the judge humble you" and the neutral judge's verdict "be satisfied, be satisfied". The adjective “modest” followed the meaning of the verb and originally meant “determined by the judge, assigned”. The people who were accordingly modest and knew too modest were considered in the Middle High German language as "insightful, prudent, understanding". Modesty was a synonym for "understanding, understanding". Today the word is mainly used in the sense of “frugal, simple, undemanding”. In a word meaning that has almost been forgotten, the phrase “give someone a notice” (= to drink in response) is also found in the reply to a toast.


Modesty can have different motivations: As a general human attitude to life, it can grow from an attitude of humility , awe of God the Lord, whose plans man is not entitled to judge, as well as of the gifts of nature, which must be treated with care not to be wasted.

In the mundane area, it can mark the character of a personality as voluntarily self-limiting needlessness, who makes himself independent of material goods, who does not rely on superfluous luxury and who orientates its meaning towards immaterial tasks and values. In contrast to religious modesty, it arises from an ethical motivation.

However, modesty can also be a reaction to material constraints, with people (for the time being) inwardly accepting the lack they are exposed to.

The psychosomatic scientist Rudolf Klußmann pointed out the possibility that greed could be warded off through "excessive modesty" and that with the help of a reaction .

History of ideas and movements


The cynicism was one in ancient Greece of the 5th century BC. A philosophical current that emerged in the 3rd century BC, which had made needlessness a high-ranking ethical goal. Antisthenes and his pupil Diogenes von Sinope and finally Demetrios or Salustios from Emesa in the Roman imperial period of the 1st and 5th centuries AD represented a view of life according to which naturalness, needlessness and asceticism were of great importance. They believed, similar to the philosophy school of the Stoics , through them that they could achieve the happiness of the individual, which they believe grows from inner independence and self-sufficiency . (If you don't own anything, you can't lose anything and be disappointed accordingly). For the direction of the Stoics, wealth and prestige meant only supposed happiness.

Christian understanding

The Middle High German expression "modesty" is initially a correspondence to Latin "prudentia, sapientia, scientia, discretio", for example in Freidank , who wrote a collection of epigrams with the title modesty around 1230 . The word is used here in the sense of the ability to differentiate (Latin discretio) between good and bad. In other contexts, a translation with "understanding" or "understanding" is possible.

It is only since Martin Luther that “modesty” has been used in German as a correspondence to Latin moderatio, modestia, that is, in the sense of “restraint” as in today's everyday language. This is probably based on a legal usage: Old High German bisceidan , Middle High German modest for (judicially) "to assign the (possibly 'modest' in today's sense of the word) portion". The moderatio , the restraint in human action, is usually brought close to temperantia in approaches of virtue ethics of the 12th and 13th centuries with reference to Cicero in particular, or, as with Thomas Aquinas , subordinated to temperantia as one of the four cardinal virtues .

"Modesty" is also classified under the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit , as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church :

“The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit brings in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve: 'Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, gentleness, loyalty, modesty, abstinence, chastity' (Gal 5: 22-23 Vg. ). "

- Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1832.

In the reference text of the Latin translation of the Bible, it says "modestia" ( Gal 5,22-23  VUL ) (while the Greek Bible text only lists nine virtues, among others the Carolingian review of the Vulgate, which was most used in the 12th century, and the Glossa ordinaria have twelve, by name still patientia, mansuetudo, castitas - also Thomas and many others).

It is said of humility and self-humiliation a. at Lk 18.14  ELB in the Christian New Testament: "Whoever humiliates himself will be exalted." Friedrich Nietzsche gives this the ironic phrase in the course of his criticism of Christian ethics:

"Lucas 18:14 improved: Those who humiliate themselves want to be exalted."

- Human, All Too Human, KSA 2, p. 87, no. 87

Youth movement

The youth movement that emerged from the so-called Wandervogel at the beginning of the 20th century shaped its own youth culture , which tried to differentiate itself from that of the parents' generation in terms of thinking and lifestyle. In the tradition of the traveling pupils of the Middle Ages, the pupils and students fled the cities and went “on a hiking trip” under the guiding principle of a simple life in harmony with nature. Hiking was used as a means of transportation, food was prepared over an open fire and overnight stays in barns, tents or in the open air. Decaying castle ruins were gradually converted into youth hostels . The aim of the dynamic movement was to experience the community and nature, to find oneself through risk and adventure as a delightful, original, self-determined life experience.

Trekking and Survival

The modern outdoor movement has spawned activities that have set themselves apart from the consumer-oriented, affluent society and limited to a minimal equipment with means of civilization, to simple life and survival in the wilderness as ascetic, strenuous, but happiness-bringing forms of life. Lonely areas remote from civilization provide the terrain in which the trekker, on his own, his skills and creativity , can find himself and, thanks to the skills he has acquired , a robust physical fitness and a stable psyche, can master the challenges and dangers that confront him. This presupposes the willingness and the ability to lead a modest way of life reduced by the help of civilization. They find their most important educational and psychological practice area in experiential education and risk education .

As survival events, survival activities lead to the limits of the physical, psychological and mental resilience of the individual and the group. Developed from the need to be able to cope with extreme situations during trekking, expeditions or special military operations, they require intensive training, the ability to be extremely needless and a gradual increase in requirements. They require the willingness to be able to rely on oneself in extreme cases without almost all civilizational and human help and to cope with dangerous and deprived situations.


In the USA (especially in the wake of the financial crisis from 2007 ) a “frugalist scene” has arisen, which is said to consist of several thousand followers. There are also frugalists in Europe and other highly developed areas. A German frugalist defines the term as follows: “Frugalists are people who want to break out of the hamster wheel of the world of work.” They dealt with the question “how they can become financially independent of their income as early as possible, that is, how they can live only from their saved assets ". Frugalists are "people who do not want to work until they are 67 years old". It is quite possible to live for up to 60 years exclusively on the unused part of the earned income that one has achieved up to the 40th birthday and the increases in value, dividends and interest accruing on the shares , investments and savings . In the United States the trend with the abbreviation "fire" is called: "financial independance, retire early" (financial independence, early retirement ). Gisela Enders, coach and author, is convinced, however, that most people cannot go long without work. Those who have taken care of things usually take up an activity for a limited time or start a project. These people would be free to choose an activity that they enjoy.

The Institute for Trend and Future Research (ITZ) characterizes frugalists as “a group of people who want to live radically independent of their status, but not unchic. They are interested in the origin and longevity of products, the ecological balance and the climatic footprint, but above all in home-made alternatives. As a rule, the frugalists have little money, but sometimes they are also wealthy with a clearly critical attitude and a pronounced sense of responsibility for the bigger picture. "In the" post-recession era "from 2009 onwards, Americans would have" had the experience. that many compatriots still have to be very careful to keep their money together. But that they too can make a contribution to combating global warming and climate change. The lifestyle of the frugalists with their new conscious consumer behavior helps them. ”Even people who involuntarily have to lead a“ modest ”life could be frugalists, namely if they had a“ stylish awareness of poverty ”, says Eike Wenzel , head of the ITZ . The first German-language book on the subject of frugalism was published by Ullstein-Verlag in 2019 and is entitled "Retirement at 40 - Financial Freedom and Happiness through Frugalism." The work of author and financial blogger Florian Wagner has been on the bestseller list of business books since it was first published. In the book and his blog, he takes the view that frugalism mainly has joy of life as its primary goal and that frugalists use money skillfully to maximize this joy of life in the long term.


Economic reasoning

Modesty can be the inevitable result of poor purchasing power . As long as the income and financial situation of people with a low purchasing power does not improve significantly, they are usually forced to “be modest” with what they own, produce or do it themselves and buy something. If they are considered creditworthy , they can go into debt, but run the risk of over-indebtedness . In the USA from 2007 onwards, the sensible rule was massively disregarded, according to which one should not afford things that one cannot pay for in the long term, and according to which financiers should not rate people who judge differently in their case as creditworthy. This led to a near collapse of the economic order .

The concept of "frugal innovation" also ties in with the phenomenon of a lack of purchasing power. In order to open up the markets in emerging and developing countries for their products, companies try to reduce them to their most important features in order to be able to offer them affordable for poorer people. This behavior, like that of the low-wage earners who consume little, for reasons of economic reason, has nothing to do with an implementation of the ideal of humility.

Psychological reasoning

Canadian researchers from the University of British Columbia , led by Aaron Weidman, have studied the psychological structure of modesty. The answers from a total of 1,438 study participants showed that there are two forms: an appreciative modesty, in which one praises and approaches others, and a derogatory modesty, in which someone belittles himself and withdraws.

Acknowledging modesty follows personal success, is associated with praising others, and is associated with a personality who is out for achievement and spontaneous pride in oneself, but which is not "staged" (i.e. shown excessively to others). Self-deprecating modesty follows personal failure and is associated with a personality that predominantly perceives failure, shame and low self-esteem and tends to be submissive. Such people would be embarrassed if they were "highly praised by someone". The researchers rate this personality type as " neurotic ".

The editors of the journal “Wirtschaftspsychologie aktuell” have no understanding of the “self-harming behavior” resulting from “false modesty” of an employee who refrains from demanding a higher salary if there is a good chance that his employer will comply with this request.

Philosophical-moral argument

Theologians like to refer to the apostle Paul's admonition in his first letter to the Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not receive? But when you have received it, what do you boast about? ”(1 Cor. 4: 7). According to this, a “show-off” misunderstands that the source of all of his material possessions, his abilities and skills is God, his Creator, to whom only thanks for what man has acquired and achieved is due. This quotation does not mean, however, that man must deny that he has the gifts that he would like to boast of. The only thing forbidden is excessive pride in his possessions, his social position and his talent.

According to Otto Friedrich Bollnow , "[t] he demand of modesty [...] demands from people that they should not go beyond themselves presumptuously , that they should not ask too much, neither of themselves nor of fate , but rather to deal with the ' humble 'shall what has been given to him. Modesty means here the right relationship in life expectancy, both in relation to one's own strength and in the demands on the environment. Titanic will and morbid greed are in their excessiveness in the same way opposed to modesty. "

The venture researcher Siegbert A. Warwitz sees in his analysis of the historically constantly reviving trend towards modesty, moderation and simple life , which from the ancient philosophers such as Socrates , Antisthenes , the Stoics or the Cynics over the Middle Ages with the constantly repeated demand after the maze to the German Wandervogel movement and the current trekking and survival experience'll pursue a need for the elementary life as the "key to happiness". He calls for a rethink to the effect that this “archaic” attitude should no longer be understood as curious: “It is not the lack of need, but the exaggerated needing attitude that is really pathological”. (P. 223) In a “society of claims” increasingly geared towards material prosperity and “exaggerated luxury”, the humble man could become a reminder of society, as the great prophets Buddha and Jesus did for the people of their time. The detachment of “superfluous needs” promises more freedom for immaterial realizations of value. According to this, the secret of happiness does not lie in the disproportionate, comfortable prosperity, but in the learnable ability to make demands on oneself, to get along with the "necessary", to find an ethically based meaning for oneself and through one's own performance with oneself and with oneself to get into equilibrium with personal life ideas.


  • K. Berg: On the history of the development of meaning of the word modesty , In: Würzburger Prosastudien Vol. 1: Verbal, conceptual and textual studies, Munich 1968, pp. 16–80.
  • Otto Friedrich Bollnow : Nature and Change of Virtues. Ullstein, Frankfurt 1958, pp. 122-135.
  • Otto Friedrich Bollnow: The virtue of modesty . Die Sammlung 11, 1956, pp. 225-233 ( online )
  • Friedrich Koch : The Kaspar Hauser Effect. About dealing with children . Opladen 1995. ISBN 978-3810013590 .
  • John-Roger and Peter MacWilliams: Money alone doesn't make you happy. Paths to New Modesty . Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main 1994.
  • B. Schwenk: Art. Modesty , In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy Vol. 1, pp. 837f.
  • Heinz Volz: Survival in nature and the environment. 14th edition, Walhalla-Fachverlag, Regensburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8029-6436-7 .
  • Florian Wagner: Retirement at 40. Financial freedom and happiness through frugalism. 2nd Edition. Econ, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-430-21017-1 (with bibliography and notes).
  • Siegbert A. Warwitz : Flow - When risk turns into wellbeing , In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings . Schneider, 2nd edition, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pp. 222–223.

Web links

Wikiquote: Modesty  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Modesty  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerhard Truig: Modesty , In: Ders .: German dictionary . Gütersloh 1970, column 643
  2. ^ K. Berg: On the history of the development of meaning of the word modesty , In: Würzburger Prosastudien Vol. 1: Word, conceptual and textual studies, Munich 1968, pp. 16–80
  3. P. Laféteur: The temperance. , in: Arbeitsgemeinschaft von Theologen [Hrsg.]: The Catholic world of faith: guidance and teaching. - Herder, Freiburg [u. a.]. - 3rd edition 1960. - Vol. 2: Moral theology. , P. 868 (933)
  4. Otto Friedrich Bollnow: Essence and Change of Virtues. Ullstein, Frankfurt 1958, p. 131
  5. ^ Siegbert A. Warwitz: Theses on value-oriented risk , In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings . Schneider, 2nd edition, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pp. 301–308
  6. ^ Rudolf Klussmann: Psychosomatic Medicine. An overview . Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-97326-0 , pp. 19 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed August 31, 2019]).
  7. ^ Klaus Döring: Die Kyniker , CC Buchners Verlag, Bamberg 2006
  8. Schwenk, 837
  9. Cf. in addition to the information in the main article Freidank Introduction and text In: Wolfgang Spiewok (Ed.): Freidanks Modesty . Selection, Middle High German - New High German. Reclam, Leipzig 1985
  10. Cf. u. a. Summa theologica IIª-IIae, q. 143 co. An exemplary overview of debates in the 12th century and other literature is provided by: Bernd Roling: The 'Moderancia' concept of Johannes de Hauvilla . On the foundation of a new ethics of secular coping with life in the 12th century, In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien 37 (2003), pp. 167-258.
  11. Reinhard Barth: Youth on the move. The young against old revolt in Germany in the 20th century . Berlin 2006
  12. John-Roger and Peter MacWilliams: Money alone does not make you happy. Paths to New Modesty. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main 1994
  13. Heinz Volz: Survival in nature and the environment. 14th edition, Walhalla-Fachverlag, Regensburg 2010
  14. Focus : Retiring at mid-40s: Frugalists save with iron methods , from April 27, 2018, accessed on February 11, 2019
  15. "Frugalist" in an interview: "I will retire at the age of 40" . Wirtschaftswoche . November 14, 2017
  16. Anne Seith: Retire at 40 - that's how it works. In: Der Spiegel , November 9, 2018.
  17. ^ Institute for Trend and Future Research (ITZ): Frugal Lifestyle. New types of consumption for anti-consumerists . October 13, 2012
  18. Alexander von Schönburg : The art of stylish impoverishment: How to get rich without money . Rowohlt. Reinbek 2005. ISBN 978-3-871-34520-3
  19. Eike Wenzel: Consumption goal awareness expansion. In: The press . January 23, 2010.
  20. ↑ book report. Retrieved May 13, 2020 (German).
  21. Frugalists - What is Frugalism? In: June 11, 2019, accessed May 13, 2020 .
  22. Anne-Christin Lehner: Systematics for the solution pattern-based development of frugal innovations . Dissertation. Nixdorf Institute, University of Paderborn - Paderborn - 2016, p. 13ff.
  23. Acknowledging and pejorative modesty . Business psychology up-to-date . September 12, 2016
  24. ↑ Give up self-damaging behavior . Business psychology up-to-date . June 12th, 2013
  25. Thomas Gerlach: Humility - What should be good about it? - the online dogmatics . Episode 110
  26. Otto Friedrich Bollnow: The virtue of modesty . Die Sammlung 11, 1956, p. 229
  27. ^ Siegbert A. Warwitz: When risk turns into well-being , In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings . Schneider, 2nd edition, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pp. 222–223