thoughts on the humblebrag

I was intrigued by this post by Justin Taylor, explaining the concept of the humblebrag. Here’s an interview with the originator of the term.

A humble brag, as I understand it, is when you brag about yourself in a way that masquerades as humility or is coupled with self-deprecation. Here are some examples:

‘Ugh. I just pocket dialed spokesperson for Pentagon.’ —Greta Van Susteren

‘If you think getting your house ready for guests is a hassle, try preparing it for HGTV cameras. I am the worst florist ever.’ —Tony Hawk

Here’s the example Justin Taylor gives:

“I remember my first months in Harvard classrooms, gob-smacked by how my contributions, however lame, were invariably treated with respect because my accent framed them.” -Andrew Sullivan

When I read the concept and the examples, my first thoughts went somewhere other than the ugliness of the humblebrag. Instead I thought of the ugliness of envy and how hard it is for us to be happy for someone else’s successes.

So what if Andrew Sullivan mentions that his school was Harvard? I often say what school I went to, it just so happens that it isn’t prestigous. Why shouldn’t Harvard attendees be able to talk about their life just like the rest of us? The fact that it bothers us that he mentions the name of his school is a reflection of insecurity in the listener, not the speaker.

When good things happen to someone else, like winning an award, or having a great job, or writing a book, or [fill in the blank], it’s better for my soul to rejoice in their success, rather than nitpick their statements looking for a hidden braggart.

Being a humble brag is a bad deal. I don’t want to be one; I don’t want my kids to be one. But, I can’t help but feel that the real issue is our inability to be happy for others. Without being able to see into people’s hearts, it’s hard to judge whether they’re bragging or simply stating what’s happening in their life at that moment. After all, I assume that Greta Van Susteran really did accidently pocket dial the Pentagon. How’s that any different than me saying, “Ugh, I just pocket-dialed the babysitter.”

I think having a problem with Greta saying that she pocket-dialed the Pentagon (which is actually pretty funny) is more about being unable to bear anyone who does better than we do. (I could go on here to relate how I think that this envy culture is a result of liberal ideology and the concept of equality of outcome, or how it flows out of our depraved and wicked hearts, but I wouldn’t want to sound too confident or self-important or controversial.)

Here are my take-home lessons: 1)Don’t brag. 2)Don’t envy. 3) Don’t be paralyzingly self-aware. Enough.