Proud and Humbled

6 Jun

[This note is based on a blog I wrote on Wed, 11 Dec 2019 titled, “Humble Bragging, Hubristic Bragging and Sadfishing”. Some of the ideas discussed here also appeared in a widely circulated post addressed to my Yahoo Groups titled, “A Conclave of Humble Braggers” on Sun, 25 Feb 2018]

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.) and waited for responses from other members.

The late Atul Chitnis, an IT Engineer was the SysOp of this early virtual group. Members of the BBS would use a modem to dial the BBS number, read the messages in the categories of their interest and post rejoinders. More than a year passed 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”.

This comment, made several decades before we had videophone connections, made a deep impression on me as I realised how our minds struggle to construct a 3-D image out of the clues in the internet handle (or nickname), coherence of thoughts presented, hint of biases, prejudices and implied premises and conclusions.

I am by no means short or “small”, yet the BBS member was comparing a mental image he had formed on the basis of my arguments with the physical image standing before him.

Technology has released us from physical, spatial and temporal confines. We are now netizens with access to a choice of social media groups.

The first thing I do every morning, probably like most people, is to read my social media messages.

We are consuming content and communicating more frenetically than ever before just because it is possible and we cant bear to ignore the impatient notification pings demanding our attention. We are distracted from our work because of the compulsion to check who is calling. We are getting accustomed to multi-tasking, sacrificing our meticulously cultivated powers of 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 facets of the same phenomenon.

Assuming we understand ourselves in the digital space, we are faced with the task of presenting ourselves to a virtual audience.

Influential Sociologist Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is a 1956 sociology book, in which the author uses the imagery of the theatre to portray the importance of human social interaction – this would eventually become known as Goffman’s ‘dramaturgical analysis’ approach.”

“Though written over half a century ago, ‘The Presentation of Self in Everday Life’ remains one of the most famous and widely taught sociology books, which was listed as the 10th most important sociology book of the twentieth century by the International Sociological Association in 1998.” [].

Just as we consciously present ourselves to others online, people in our network are consciously [or unconsciously] presenting themselves to us.

I never cease to marvel at the high achievers in our circle who are going places, reaching one milestone after the other, all the while keeping us informed.

What I cannot understand is why some of them appear to be almost apologetic about their achievement! If they are, I wonder why!

A connection I cannot ignore even if I tried, says, “It was humbling to receive a welcome email from XYZ”.

Someone else for whom “success looks easy” is reportedly, “… rooted, grounded, humble…”

Yet another worthy says, “Honoured and humbled to receive The PQR Achiever of the Year 2022″…

As if being humbled is not enough, another notable says, “I am Very humbled and grateful to the ABC Institute for recognising POWERDARTS in online sales (my emphasis).

So what is this humility that has to accompany high achievement or recognition… is it the same idea as “modesty” in moments of legitimate public acknowledgement?

I did some research on “humility” online and revised my understanding of the concept:

There is a new generation expression, “Humble Bragger”…

“Humblebrag, also humble brag, humble-brag. noun [countable] a statement in which you pretend to be modest but which you are really using as a way of telling people about your success or achievements.”

“The word humblebrag was coined in 2011 by American comedian Harris Wittels, who set up the corresponding Twitter account and currently compiles a monthly top ten ranking of the most shameless humblebrags.”

“Arguably, the humblebrag is a product of the social media revolution, in which people talk about themselves all the time but the nuances of body language and facial expressions they’d use in the real world have to be substituted by words which convey: ‘I want to tell you about this, but I don’t want you to think I’m showing off.'”

“The term is of course a combination of adjective, ‘humble’, meaning ‘not thinking that you are better than others’ and verb ‘brag’ meaning ‘to talk about your achievements in an annoying way’. With these two opposing perspectives cemented into one word, it could be argued that humblebrag represents a new example of what is formally referred to as an oxymoron. An oxymoron is an expression containing words with opposite meanings, more well-known examples of which include bitter-sweet, deafening silence and organized chaos.”

Dont get me wrong… I love the “honour” part – its only the “humility” part that has me puzzled… What’s wrong with saying it with pride? “Garv se kaho” (Say it with pride!) – “Gauravaththode Prakhyapikkuga” – maybe “Abhimanam” not “Gauravam”

Online Games

It occurred to me that although our technology has changed, we are still playing the same old games which only a few decades ago we played face to face… Not many in the present generation could have heard of Thomas A. Harris, MD, of “I’M OK- YOU’RE OK (1969)” fame. This book was recommended as a “practical guide to transactional analysis as a method for solving problems in life”. The book made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1972 and remained there for almost two years.

An interesting idea from “I’m OK- You’re OK was a “game” from our childhood, which many of us carry into adulthood.

“I believe all games have their origin in the simple childhood game, easily observed in any group of three year-olds: ‘Mine is Better Than Yours’. This game is played to bring a little momentary relief from the awful burden of the NOT OK. It is essential to keep in mind what the I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK position means to the three-year-old. I’M NOT OK means: I’m two feet tall, I’m helpless, I’m defenceless, I’m dirty, nothing I do is right, I’m clumsy, and I have no words with which to try to make you understand how it feels. YOU’RE OK means: You are six feet tall, you are powerful, you are always right, you have all the answers, you are smart, you have life or death control over me, and you can hit me and hurt me, and its still OK.” (Chapter 3. The Four Life Positions)

“Grownups indulge in sophisticated variations of the ‘Mine Is Better’ game. Some people achieve temporary relief by accumulating possessions, by living in a bigger, better house than the Joneses, or even revelling in their modesty; I am humbler than you are.” [from I’M OK]

Hubristic Bragging

If we have really achieved something in our work or life, do we really need to brag about it AND feel “humbled”?

It would seem that braggarts need the brassy sound of bragging more than their audience, and using humility as a “counter-arrogance” cloak will deceive only the most naive online readers.

How then, must we celebrate our wins, however small or display authentic pride in our achievements? Authentic pride can be distinguished from hubristic pride by EVIDENCE of skilful achievement and/or impacts of hard-won results.

Hubristic pride is inevitably linked to a sense of deep need for acceptance and frequently accompanied by 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.

Self celebration over significant and noteworthy achievements is neither arrogance nor narcissism. Social media exists precisely for sharing such progress… Say it with pride… say it in your actions, and remember to share your success with others who contributed.

Proud Bragging

The last time I held forth on the subject of bragging, I wrote a few lines which still resonate with me today:

“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 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 Clown or 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 awakens their own consciousness in a public space.”

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