A short while ago, some lovely ladies in a group for women who cover their heads as an expression of their faith asked for my thoughts upon the act of reserving one’s touch for those who are in their innermost social circles (family, predominantly). I did some research into this practice and discovered that it was prevalent within orthodox Jewish communities and within Islam.
This practice is part of a larger practice that calls for modesty in behavior. I considered this for a little while and wondered how it would manifest within today’s world, as well as what actions one could take to fully engage the world while still remaining modest in this fashion. Some actions, such as wearing gloves when in public to prevent direct physical contact with unfamiliar people, are potentially archaic but still allow one to reserve their physical contact for those who are closest to them. Others, such as refraining from the use of vulgarity, are subtle acts of self restraint that allows one to keep to their prohibitions (or taboos, as some would call them) and yet move within the dominant society with out too many waves made.
It is difficult to balance the actions we are called to by our respective faiths and the actions that we are encourage to do by the world at large. The challenge of remaining modest is particularly keen for women. Society places incredible pressure upon women to dress and behave in sexually provocative fashions. Women who do not engage in this activity are viewed with some suspicion and at times mocked (the term spinster and the mockery of virgins are the first examples that come to mind). Modesty in behavior requires a considerable amount of strength in an environment that is hostile to such action.
One may wonder why a person would choose to limit themselves in such a fashion. It is important to recall that the purpose of modest behavior is twofold. First, it is an expression of respect and honor towards the belief system that calls upon the practitioner to engage in it. By acting in a modest fashion when your beliefs call you to do so, you show respect to your beliefs and actively engage in practicing what you proverbially preach. Secondly, modest behavior is an expression of self respect.
I discussed the concept of modesty in more detail in an earlier post. I would prefer to focus now on how one behaves modesty. It is a lifestyle choice that is at times subtle and difficult to discern. It is, in many ways, a counter-cultural activity and some could go so far as to frame it as a quiet form of civil disobedience in the light of cultural tides that flow.
A modest person is not boastful or vulgar. They strive to be correct in speech and deed. As such, they will refrain from casually swearing, excessively bragging about their accomplishments, or taking actions that draw undue attention to themselves. The modest person is the person in the crowd who is dressed in a fashion that is not sexually provocative or too flashy. Some may argue that the distinctive dress that marks some movements go against this but there are exceptions to every rule.
Generally, modesty tends to be dictated by the cultural mores that are predominant in a region. Persons coming to a modest perspective from an Arabic background will have a different approach to the topic as a person coming from an American background (like myself) or a person coming from a Continental European background. Filianist writers tend to promote a Western approach towards modesty due to the fact that the majority of the publicly known practitioners come from this cultural background. There is also evidence of a strong emphasis from Christian influences due to the fact that Christianity shaped a great deal of the cultural mores of Europe and related cultures.
Working from this basis, a picture of the modest Filianist begins to clarify. Their manner of dress tends towards more conservative fashions, often echoing an earlier era such as Victorian or the 1950s-1960s. Their behavior is focused upon the terms of propriety and correct social interactions for their dominant culture where in they are located. Generally, they refrain from vulgarity; give deference to their elders and persons of importance; and will be given to act with restraint. Modesty as a form of behavior has more forms of expression then modesty in dress, but in either case, there are similar standards at play.