When one uses the word "modesty", one immediately thinks of dress. But, modesty is more than dress and dress is only one manifestation of modesty or the lack of it.
In the Roman world, and to Augustine, modestia would be discretion. The root for the word modesty is modus, or measure. Temperance would be the main virtue for the secondary virtue of modestia.
A person living a temperate life, exhibiting the discipline of temperance, (and here I refer to previous posts on the cardinal virtues), would be a humble person, living outside of excesses of food, drink or the gaining of status or money.
Likewise, in dress, modestia would be a temperance, a discipline of discretion, knowing what is appropriate for any occasion. How one speaks, carries themselves, dresses and acts in general would be guided by temperance, a virtue we are given in the sacrament of baptism, and strengthened in confirmation.
What I have noticed since returning to the States, in a few months away, is that more and more adults lack discretion, or appropriateness, and are not teaching their children appropriate, measured behavior. Children moving up and down the aisles at church is not measured behavior, nor it loud talking and running around in shops.
This lack of manners is entirely the parents', or in some cases, the grandparents' problem, Less than two weeks ago, a friend of mine in New Jersey took me out to dinner. The young people talked so loud that we could hardly hear each other. And mothers were loudly correcting children in public, to no avail.
The dinner setting became more unpleasant when very loud teens entered the restaurant. And the public use of the cell phone, with again, loud private conversations could have been embarrassing for some people to overhear.
Modesty comes from humility and the recognition that one is not the only person in the universe. Modesty flows from consideration for others. Manners were developed in the Western world from the Golden Rule of Christ, to love others as one's self. That rule is no longer followed.
The lack of discretion also affects those who have no boundaries in their lives and tell people they hardly know all types of details of their lives. This lack of boundaries, is, again, directly related to bad parenting. Emotional and psychological boundaries are learned in the home, early on.
Boundaries protect us from being manipulated, used, and help us create our own personalities. Families which do not allow the creation of the unique individual frequently are dysfunctional, perhaps involved in emotional incest or other abuses.
Montessori teaches the respect for the very young child. In families where this respect is missing, boundaries cannot be built or maintained. Montessori had the great insight that the main role of the young child was the creation of the adult he was going to be. Sadly, serious sins of the parents stop the normal maturation of children, making them stuck in an earlier age as an adult.
Manners are connected to this maturation and when I see a lack of manners in a family, the lack of discretion, I know there most likely are boundary problems as well. Sometimes men do not grow up because of incestual mothers, who, after an unhappy marriage, transfer their "love" and needs to the sons. The same can be found in incestual fathers, who no longer love their older wife and want merely to "love" a younger version. This type of emotional incest is just as bad as physical incest.
Some Peter Pans were raised in such a way as to not find out who they are, and they are stuck in never-neverland. To find out who one is requires respect, detachment of the parent, time and space alone, and profound humility on the part of the parent.
Modesty and manners are learned at home, and the Catholic home must maintain such a measure of respect among the family members. Modesty and manners may be connected to the growth of the individual, and the lack of such indicates that inside could be an emotional pygmy, someone stymied by unreal expectations and false love.
A few months ago, a woman came to me unable to separate from her adulterous husband. She lacked a sense of her own integrity. Outside of that relationship, she did not know who she was. Her entire identity was based on another person's approval or disapproval. She is stuck. She is a Peter Pam.
Manners and modesty are missing in her family, as one can tell by the way the women dress in that family. Sadly, only real honesty and repentance, as well as healing, can free her and others like her from the lack of adult perception of who she really is.
In the talk about pornography lately, it is clear that the search for porn may be connected to the lack of emotional boundaries. A man or women chose fantasy instead of reality in their lives as they lack a concept of who they are.
God has an answer to all problems, and such a small thing as manners, the showing of respect and boundaries in a family, can lead to whole and holy children. Those who chose not to follow the way of God ignore the minor virtues, which are connected to the major ones.
One more point. Some adult parents want to be "rescued" from unhappiness by their children. They want to live successful lives through their children, as they feel like failures in some way. Only a person can rescue themselves from these dark and dismal feelings of inadequacy. One cannot get into a rescue mode of always being available for trivial matters. Manipulation is a sign of the lack of boundaries.
Modesty and manners are not merely dress or the tone of voice, but a sign of the individualization of the child, the one who knows who he is and loves himself, as we all are called to do.
One cannot love one's neighbor unless one loves one's self accepting one as one is in truth and humility.