Way back when, in a time before memory, people were told to be humble. They were told to be reticent about their successes and never to flaunt their wealth.
My, how times have changed?
Now, social media encourages people to brag about how great they are, to show off the wonderful and fun things they have been doing, to parade around in their expensive finery.
It’s a culture that emulates celebrities.
How do celebrities become celebrated? They do so by occupying space in the tabloids. How better to achieve that dubious goal than to accumulate great mansions, expensive fashions, special automobiles and even serious art. Let's not forget the effort to spend exorbitant sums of money on alcohol and drugs... to say nothing of stints in rehab.
In a culture that lauds celebrities, even to the point of seeking out their opinions on matters they know nothing about, it is not surprising that people believe that there is an intrinsic virtue in being open, honest and shameless about their greatness.
It’s not just celebrity, of course.
When teachers and even parents shower children with praise just for being who they are, regardless of what they have achieved, the same children will often echo these empty encomia. They are persuaded that the more you repeat a phrase the truer it becomes.
Young people are also advised, on a fairly regular basis, that when they go for job interviews or even when they are on the job, they ought to be asserting themselves, showing off their greatness, constructing their brand… and the like.
It seems that the days of humility are over. Braggadocio has become the order of the day.
Unfortunately, it does not always work out very well.
Since we all bow down to the authority of science, we need to read the latest psychological studies in order to see that being a braggart does not make you more popular and does not make people think better of you. In fact, it lowers their estimation of your character.
The reason is clear: your bragging often makes other people feel worse about themselves.
When you show off your wealth and success by tooling around in a Maserati you are showing off. You are saying that you are better than your neighbor who is driving around in a pitiful old Lexus.
Consciously or unconsciously, everyone knows that if you flaunt it you probably don’t have it.
The moral of the story is simple: never try to buck up your self-esteem at someone else’s expense.
It will provoke resentment and will cost you friends.
Inequality is a fact of life. Most people, however, do not like to have their faces rubbed in it.
Worse yet, if you were really as successful as you think you are, you would not have to brag about it. Your achievements would speak for themselves. Then you, a humble soul if ever there was one, would content yourself with giving other people credit for your success.
Bragging makes it appear that you have achieved your success at someone else’s expense. It makes people feel that you are imposing your success on them, not allowing them to admire you of their own free will.
At the very least, it’s narcissistic.
Obviously, this is especially true of those who either have not earned what they are spending or those who have earned far more than they have contributed to the common good.
Kardashians… that means you!
The Daily Mail reports on the latest research:
If you want people to have a high opinion of you the key is not to tell them how brilliant you are.
Self-promoters - such as maverick England cricketer Kevin Pietersen - tend to misjudge how annoying they are to others, suggests new research.
Bragging to colleagues about a recent promotion, or posting a photo of your brand new car on Facebook, may seem like harmless ways to share good news.
However, the study shows that self-promotion or a 'humblebrag' often backfires.
The researchers wanted to find out why so many people frequently get the trade-off between self-promotion and modesty wrong.
They found that self-promoters overestimate how much their self-promotion elicits positive emotions while underestimating how much it elicits negative emotions.
As often happens in our therapy-addled age, we are so thoroughly attuned to our own feelings that we have no sense of how we look to other people. We try to compensate by declaring ourselves to be masters of empathy, but if we do not know how we look to others and if we do not know how they feel about us, we are nowhere near as empathetic as we think we are.
We are fully in touch with our feelings. We have an artificially inflated self-esteem. The result is that we are clueless about other people.
The Daily Mail adds:
Fellow researcher George Loewenstein, Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, said: 'This shows how often, when we are trying to make a good impression, it backfires.
'Bragging is probably just the tip of the iceberg of the self-destructive things we do in the service of self-promotion, from unfortunate flourishes in public speeches to inept efforts to 'dress for success' to obviously insincere attempts to ingratiate ourselves to those in power.'
Yet again, we are going to have to reinvent the wheel.
That would be the wheel of moral virtue, the one that counsels modesty and humility in all things, that teaches us to be self-effacing, not to get in people’s faces and not to puff up our self-importance at someone else’s expense.
Be humble; don’t brag.