The subtle art of Humble Bragging

Once upon a time, I knew a woman who had elevated boasting to an art form. You would never know it, but ever so subtly she’d slip in details of her latest designer purchase, or her lunch out at a talked about hot spot or how ‘in’ she was with the people that mattered. She was careful not to over do it, and combined with what seemed to be a self deprecating sense of humour, most people acknowledged that she was lovely, and undoubtedly had an enviable lifestyle. I thought so as well. In fact, I considered myself lucky to call her a friend. The only hiccup was that every encounter with her left me feeling slightly diminished. Sub consciously I felt that I was lacking and that I needed to keep up.

It was not till a childhood friend pointed out my recently acquired obsession with expensive bags and shoes, that I realised that I was behaving totally out of character. Sure, I liked the good things in life too, but I had never been so preoccupied with hoarding labels before.

When that woman finally exited my life, and all ties were severed, I realised what a psychological number she had done on me. In trying to fit in and be accepted, I tried to be like her and buy like her. Ultimately, it was patently obvious to the both of us that the very foundation of our friendship was weak, built on the quicksands of want and need and social proximity. It also took time and distance for me to realise that she must have had multiple issues and insecurities of her own, to have the incessant need to flaunt her lavish modus vivendi, however skilfully and insidiously she went about it.

I am sure that most of us have been guilty of the occasional ‘humble brag’. Where we really want to call attention to something we are proud of, but rather than openly and loudly (and off- puttingly) boast about it, we call attention to it in a roundabout manner. Where people think, “Oh, how modest he/she is about his possessions/accomplishments”. I know I certainly have indulged in a ‘humble brag’ or two. Yet, each time, I’m left feeling a tad bit dirty, like I’ve done something not very nice or befitting.

Living in the UK, most people do not indulge in self aggrandisement. It’s just uncool. If you’ve got something to be proud of as an accomplishment, the general rule of thumb is, you shut up and let others talk about it on your behalf. If they so choose to do. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with La dolce vita, then showing off is unnecessary and in very poor taste.

In the US however, self publicity is seen as no bad thing. Entire industries are built upon it. Look at QVC. Look at the Kardashians. They are shameless in their self promotion. Loud and proud is the motto that brings the greenbacks in. The argument is: if I’ve got it, I will flaunt it and the world be damned.

So what is right? The former attitude or the latter?

I think there really is no clear cut answer to this. Feeling happy and proud and announcing something to the world and his wife in an enthusiastic manner is rarely misconstrued and normally well received. On the other hand, being a braggadocio and showing off loudly and constantly is obnoxious and distasteful.

Worse however, is cloaking it all in a garb of humility. People eventually cotton on to the humble bragger and the insincerity of their self deprecation.

Subtle or not, drop the act or be prepared to lose all respect in the long run.

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Would you rather be liked or respected?

Would you rather be liked or would you rather be respected?

Of course, they aren’t mutually exclusive. There are plenty of people who are both liked and respected, and more on them later. Yet for the general populace, the balance normally tips one way or the other. I’ll wager that most of you reading this will be opting for ‘respect’. After all, it seems to be the more respectable choice, pardon the pun. Who wants to be just liked? Respect has weight behind it, a certain gravitas. Puppies are liked, as are rom coms and cupcakes. World leaders, Chairmen of companies, United Nations envoys – now these are respected. But I digress.

We all think we want to be respected, while in reality, what we really really want is to be liked. Earning respect is a process that involves principles, scruples and sometimes swimming against the flow. It involves saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. It involves a moral compass that cannot be compromised. It is an unflinching stance and it is a lonely place.

Being liked, on the other hand, is so much easier. Agree with everyone. Don’t have too many opinions, and if you do, hide them well. Be prepared to walk away from confrontation and controversy. Bury your head in the sand, align yourself with stronger personalities and as much as possible, sit on the fence.

Harsh? Possibly.

Not all likeable people are cowards. Not all outwardly respectable people are morally upright. And why choose between one or the other?

Because, as one gets older, it’s important to have a belief system in place. It’s important to use one’s voice and one’s conscience to do the right thing, to champion the causes one believes in, and to do it without compunction or fear.

If the casualty to all this is being disliked, then so be it. Life cannot be lived by other people’s opinions of you. Therefore, if it is respect you aspire to, then be prepared for a little side dish of dislike too.

If all you wish for is to be liked, beware that it comes with its own set of pitfalls. In being universally liked (if such a thing is at all possible), you have no doubt bitten your tongue more times than you can think of, been walked over, been ignored and overlooked when it came to important decisions, and been put upon and/or taken for granted.

So, is there a way to straddle both? After all, as I mentioned before, some people manage both, to be liked and to be respected. How do they do it?

It’s quite simple really. They don’t care. They follow the path their heart and conscience leads them on. They crave neither popularity nor power. If they acquire these along the way, then it is an embellishment. It is by no means their raison d’être. These path breakers have their own share of people who dislike and disrespect them. The difference is that it doesn’t stop them. It barely affects them, and even if they register the negativity, they carry on regardless.

To these I doff my imaginary hat. For the rest of us, being respected and being liked is a sub conscious see saw. Approach with caution and handle with care.