Humble Bragging, Hubristic Bragging and Sadfishing

11 Dec

The year was 1984 and I was busy searching through two of my songbooks for lyrics that could be adapted for a pasquinade I could deliver at a class farewell for GKV, an influential and hugely popular OB instructor. Alright, GKV is the initials of Gopal K.Valecha and OB is the acronym for Organisational Behaviour.

Just when I began to despair that I wouldnt get anything suitable to modify for my spoof song, my eyes hovered over the lyrics of “Psychotherapy” by Melanie Safka. “Yes”, I thought, “I could modify these lines to create a jingle that classmates in the Post Graduate Programme could remember for decades after we progressed from the huddle of grim grey concrete buildings in Bannerghatta, Bangalore.”

My ballpen hovered over a dog-eared scribbling pad and it took only a few minutes for the transformation of Melanie’s song into a parody to be sung to the same tune.

I had to return to the second verse which required to be polished up.

At IIM I thought the others to me were all superior
And this complex made me drearier and drearier and drearier
Till GKV assured me that I really was inferior
As the id goes marching on…

Yes, that would do, I thought as I put finishing touches to the lyrics and got ready to go down to the mess for lunch.

At the Institute, competing with IIT and REC toppers presented what seemed to be insurmountable odds. I had joined for the MBA Programme after working for 11 years. I was 36 years old, while the average age of the class was about 25. The youngest batchmate had just crossed 20 years of age. I was the same age as some of our professors. I wondered how my classmates viewed me and what impression they formed of me.


The Social Self and Looking Glass Self

It was December 2019 and it was turning cold in Bangalore. As I walked down Lewis Road in Cooke Town towards my friend’s house, I quickly reviewed some of the other influential OB concepts that made an impact on me.

Ninteenth Century Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s “Theory of the Social Self” and Charles Horton Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self”.

I pulled out my mobile and looked up “Looking Glass Self” (1906) on Google. “…our reflection of how we think we appear to others”…

Influential Sociologist Erving Goffman had worked on “The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life” (1956). His dramaturgical analysis assumes that we consider ourselves to be on stage as we present ourselves to society (our audience of the moment).

Society has grown out of its physical, spatial confines and we are now netizens with access to a kaleidoscopic selection of digital groups.

The first thing I do every morning, probably like most people in my circle is to look at messages in my smartphone.

We are communicating more frenetically than ever before just because it is possible and we cant bear to ignore the impatient pings demanding our attention. We are distracted from our work because its so easy to check who is calling. We are getting accustomed to multi-tasking at the cost of our concentration and spreading ourselves thin in our digital social world.

The entire process of understanding ourselves has changed with the digitally enabled social interaction. We now have to develop our self-concepts in a wider social context and modify at least our online behaviour on the basis of the individuals we are linked to. We are told that society and the individual are not separate entities, but two sides of the same phenomenon.


Many Facebook and WhatsApp addicts measure their self-worth on the number of “likes” they get. For a couple of years conversations in online groups were dominated by liberals who commented on changes taking place at the national and regional space. Then suddenly, there were swift reproofs questioning the nationalism of the individuals who had posted these liberal comments. A new aggression crept into online discussions and the vocabulary changed to accommodate the new social reality.

In at least one of my online groups (IIMB 1983-85), I got called, “Libtard”, “Sickular”, “Left Intellectual”, “JNU Sympathiser”, and “Evangelical”. My insistence that policies must be acceptable to all stakeholders which meant debate and modification of hardline stances was jeered at. I had to review my own position in the light of how my social group viewed me. The easiest option was to withdraw from the group and not be active in conversations, although that would have meant ceding space to my attackers.

In an online Fight or Flight situation, we have to assess whether there is a real threat to our survival as netizens and whether our physiologies are producing the hormones and neurotransmitters to gird us for resistance. Its all a matter of what we consider to be sacred and unviolable in our lives. I am glad to say I stood my ground and continued saying what I had always said and am now closer than ever to the batchmates who were critical of my leanings.

Humble Bragging

In almost every group there is the “Humble Bragger” who is in fact a high achiever. He or she feels diffident about saying something that might be perceived as immodest. He or she is likely to announce a significant achievement as, “I am humbled by the honour conferred on me by the Society for…”. The embarrassment caused by blowing one’s own trumpet is directly proportional to ones sense of immodesty and self-effacement. This is sad, especially when there has been a significant achievement, in which case an online group is a primary group before which it is perfectly legitimate to share the experience. If there has been a real accomplishment, why should it be swept under the carpet?! Authentic pride which is carefully articulated with a sense of self-control can be satisfying and inspiring for the whole tribalistic group.

Hubristic Bragging

Hubristic pride is inevitably linked to a sense of impulsivity and aggression. Sometimes this behaviour is triggered by a feeling of inferiority and non-acceptance by the primary group. It can of course only isolate the bragger even further.

It is posited that while authentic pride is generated by systematic effort and single-minded goal achievement, hubristic pride seeks recognition in the public eye on the basis of persistent claims of social superiority.


This term was coined in early 2019 by writer Rebecca Reid, Digital Editor of Grazia, author of “Perfect Liars” and “Truth Hurts”.

Sadfishing is the act of fishing for online sympathy. Frequently this is engineered by intensifying the drama of a personal situation to create engagement on social media.

Most of us would be familiar with individuals in our groups who desperately and shamelessly seek online sympathy. Sometimes this behaviour is conflated with vin triste, which literally means “wine sad” in French. It is the melancholic state that sometimes accompanies hard drinking.

I knew someone who was going through a divorce and was seeing a significant other. It was easy to conclude that his sadfishing posts had been composed under the influence of alcohol. The self-pity and the comfort-seeking expeditions were rather disturbing. It was quite common for him to dramatise the legal and social complications of his divorce and life situation. He would post details of the new woman in his life and details of where he had met her and when, without probably realising that he was posting evidence that could be used against him in a divorce court into hundreds of computers.

Another online friend had a heart attack which required a procedure to place a stent in a blocked artery. His sadfishing posts bemoaned the threat to his life and the fact that he was facing this crisis alone. “I have nobody” was a frequent lament. It was embarrassing to respond to these posts because I had never met the man in real life or in ‘meat space’ to use digital jargon. An embarrassed silence is an understandable response to sadfishing, although this can be seen as rejection and isolation by the person who posted that message.

Proud Bragging

I like to see myself as a Proud if not Hubristic Bragger, thanks to Erving Goffman. In Kannada I would add, “Enu nachaka illa” (I am unashamed… to say this). Its like a professional actor saying he or she is not ashamed to stand on the stage and deliver his lines. In some shows, he might act as a King, in some as a Prophet and in yet others as a Villain.

The prospect of standing before a crowd and delivering my rant of the day makes me plan a message, work on it, conscious that I am posting vital information about my mental state and how I think, and the positions I hold on various situations. Readers use their life’s experiences to judge for themselves how the post represents me in a public space.

In the early 1990’s, before the internet came to India (Huh? Was there a time when there was no internet in India?). I was a member of a BBS (Bulletin Board Service) where you posted messages under various categories (Technology, Society, Politics, Movies etc.). The late Atul Chitnis, an IT Engineer was the SysOp of this group. Members of the BBS would read the messages in the categories of their interest and post responses. It took more than a year before I met members of the BBS at a party. One of the members who frequently crossed swords with me on ideological grounds looked me up and down and said, “I thought you would be much taller and bigger”. He explained that he was referring to my online image which was of a person occupying a lot of prime space.

This experience gave me an insight into how we are perceived online regardless of the skill with which we try to position ourselves. There are a few people who confer extraordinary (positive) tributes on me, like my friend Geeta Gopal Athreya whom I have known since 1964. There must be some substance in such accolades, which have survived intact over 55 years, which is almost a life-time. On the other hand I have more than one friend on my IIMB Group who call my writing “Tharoorish“. The tide has however turned and I am no longer called all the “Anti-National” sobriquets given to me by one or two of my IIMB batchmates. I am quite happy to accept the label of “Tharoorish” as a compliment, even if it may not have been intended as such.

Freud’s mystic world of meaning needn’t have us mystified
Its really very simple what the psyche tries to hide
Our fate is a phallic symbol, as long as it is wide
As the id goes marching on…

2 Responses to “Humble Bragging, Hubristic Bragging and Sadfishing”

  1. Sundaravadanam December 12, 2019 at 2:20 am #

    Good analysis. Leads to more and more
    discussion on effect of internet etc.

    More comments to follow

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