In Defense of the ‘Humblebrag’
In Defense of the ‘Humblebrag’
Unless you’ve been hiding out in the mountains, living off the grid, or traversing the world via sailboat, you’ve certainly been exposed to the “humblebrag.” Though it’s been around for centuries, the humblebrag, like many other things good and bad, has come into its own with the ubiquity of the internet and the introduction of social media. The humblebrag is defined by Dictionary.com, an online dictionary of course, as this: “an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.” And while we, understandably, all loathe seeing the status pop up from a social media friend who posts nothing but humblebrags, in the year 2018, I have begun to look at them from a slightly different light, and I wonder if you have, too.
The last couple of years have definitely challenged my constitution as a human being. I was raised on My Little Golden Book of Manners – a children’s book with a dapper suit-coated giraffe on the cover shaking hands with a young boy with perfect posture. In that book, and throughout all of my formative years and most of my adult years, good manners dictated that you showed respect and courtesy to everyone you met – whether you agreed with their politics, sexual proclivity, preference for cats over dogs, religious persuasion, or even their belief that somehow, blondes really do have more fun. Like the giraffe on the cover of My Little Golden Book of Manners, you simply bent your neck down or stretched up to accommodate the difference in your heights, shook hands firmly, and accepted that you had differences but could still converse politely and co-exist.
Call it old-fashioned if you’d like, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore. Whether it’s the political climate that has polarized us, a generation of parenting advice telling us that everyone should get a trophy, our intense need for competition, the prevalence of video games, or just the changing times, we’ve become less patient, more crude, and far too willing to turn any crowd into an angry mob. And with instant access to the entire world at our fingertips, we’ve found new and cruel ways to cut one another down, devalue, and hurt each other. In short, we’ve hopped on the toboggan and given ourselves a mighty big push down the slippery slope that takes us from compassion to cruelty.
This is why I not only tolerate but welcome the humblebrag. When I open my newsfeed, I would so much rather see a friend, family member or acquaintance posting a ‘grip and grin’ photo with only a slightly self-deprecating message like, “I can’t believe I got this award!” than to see a nasty political meme designed to make one political party despise another. And don’t even get me started on the abused animal photos and videos. I’ll take the humblebrag any day over them.
Of course, I understand that it’s tooting our own horn, sharing our good news and glossing over the day-to-day dullness that can sometimes be our routine, and of course, sometimes I roll my eyes and utter under my breath, perhaps almost audibly, “Dear God, is she seriously posting yet another self-congratulatory selfie?” That’s the human part of me coming through loud and clear, and maybe a bit green with a hint of envy too. When that happens, I try to brush my jealousy aside and find it in my heart to be genuinely happy for my friend or acquaintance and her good news. After all, we don’t get enough good news, and even if my Facebook friend tends to go a bit overboard on celebrating everything from an aesthetically-pleasing meal to being asked to model in the latest charity fashion show, it’s all good – really. She could be posting depressing or cryptic song lyrics or poem snippets that make me feel compelled to ask if everything is okay, and she could be railing about how difficult it is to find Manolo Blahniks that fit her exquisitely manicured size five feet, both of which would quickly become exhausting, so seeing her post about her blessed life is way better than the alternative, and we’ve all seen plenty of the alternative, haven’t we?
Besides, I was raised as a Catholic, which means I was constantly and audibly sharing my unworthiness with the world, not letting my right hand know what my left was doing when it came to sharing kindnesses, and harboring the shame of original sin, which Fr. Cleary explained to my catechism class would forever keep me from becoming a saint with a capital ‘S’. My unworthiness helped make me a professional when it came to the weekly (yes, weekly) trip behind the filtered screen at the confessional, where I sometimes had to invent sins because I couldn’t possibly have been perfect enough to go a week without committing any of them! Looking back now, I’m pretty sure I’ve said enough Our Fathers and Hail Marys as penance to cover my lifetime and maybe yours, too. You’re welcome.
Add that to being a female and being taught that it was unbecoming to think yourself too beautiful or accept compliments too graciously, and it doesn’t take long to realize why there is a whole generation of women (and men) like me who have a hard time valuing themselves and have plenty of room left in their ‘compliment storage vault’ deep within their hearts. What I’m saying is that we all need to feel loved and be told we’re special…and most of us actually need to learn how to value ourselves a little more and toot our own horns once in a while.
This spring, I was surprised twice by awards I did not expect. And though the good little Catholic girl who still tiptoes around inside me would rather visit the dentist than receive recognition or accolades for any accomplishment or good I’ve done, I was bamboozled into situations where I was in the spotlight and being honored for being myself. After they were over, I felt guilty and conflicted about how to handle this. Clearly, a whole bunch of people wanted to show me, in a very public way, that I mean something to them and they appreciate who I am as a human being and member of this lovable but dysfunctional family we call a community. Do I pretend it never happened and go on with life, or is it okay to publicly acknowledge their kindness and how much it means to me to be loved by people I respect and admire? Am I a narcissist or egomaniac if I choose to share my gratitude for others simply because an honor was given to me?
After a lot of thought and some push and pull in my own heart and conscience, I decided that part of my journey involves learning how to more graciously accept compliments and kudos. Not only is learning to accept them more graciously a gift to myself and a big step forward in my effort to appreciate, love, and take care of myself better, I hope my ability to share and uninhibitedly express good things about myself periodically is also a tribute to those around me who encourage, support, and love me – even in the rest of times when I’m not always worthy of accolades and honor.
And while I may never be fully comfortable with being complimented (and I apologize in advance if I automatically tell you I got the dress on sale and where – irritating habits die hard, and I am definitely an old dog who struggles with new tricks), I promise to try to do better in accepting words of kindness and compliments, and I vow to try to silence the little troll voice in me telling me I should never share when something good happens for me. As long as you and I try our best to keep the humility in our sharing, then there will be authenticity in the humble part of our sharing, meaning our ‘humblebrag’ will be more humble sharing than shameless self-promotion and bragging, right?
So cheers to each of us. My hand may be a little shaky because I’m not used to this, but I’m raising my glass and toasting myself for being fortunate enough to have something cool and self-centered to post about upon occasion, and here’s to you for being a good enough friend to share in my joy and me in yours. Here’s to our very humble, humblebrag. May it help us be a little more like little kids, feel good about ourselves, and appreciate that we have both humility and love and are deserving of a small ovation once in a while.
Wendy Dwyer is a woman of many hats. A full-time Associate Professor at Indian River State College, she serves as a creative consultant for a variety of nonprofit organizations in the area. She also writes regularly for Luminaries, STUART Magazine, and a variety of other publications.
The creative force behind a variety of unique and wildly successful fundraising programs locally, including the Jewelia Project, the “What’s in Your Bag?” Food Drive, and the Silver Bells Holiday Home Tour, Dwyer is an active volunteer in the community as well, serving as a founding board member of the Van Duzer Foundation, and assisting a variety of local charitable organizations including: Mustard Seed, HANDS/VIM, Southeast Florida Honor Flight, Creature Safe Place, the Inner Truth Project, Guardians for New Futures, Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society, the Sunrise Theatre Foundation, LifeBuilders of the Treasure Coast, Heathcote Botanical Gardens, United for Animals, and many others.
An award-winning writer, educator, and public relations professional, Dwyer is always willing to assist non-profit organizations and provide dynamic and engaging public relations trainings for Treasure Coast charities. Her book Asshats to Assets: How to Turn Crappy Jobs into Career Gold is available at www.amazon.com. When she is not working or volunteering, she enjoys writing, walking, and spending time with her husband Dan and a large variety of rescued animals at her rural home west of Fort Pierce.