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Mares: Bragging

(Host) Writer, educator and commentator Bill Mares has been thinking about how we talk about ourselves, and what that says about us.

(Mares) Bragging used to be a solid if minor sin, except in politicians, for whom it is instinctive. For the rest of us it was impolite to trumpet our accomplishments . Of course, were not talking about Muhammad Ali. When he said I'm the greatest!; that was the Truth! A few might say, "If you don't toot your own horn, no one else will." But that was still crass; it violated social norms. My training was: ;Let your deeds speak for themselves." Or, as the Japanese say, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down."

Then society graduated to false modesty.

Oh, I'm not good enough for that position!; Meaning I'm the best you'll ever see .

Oh, you really don't want me on your team!; Meaning ;Take me or else!;

The common acronym you find in emails - IMHO, in my humble opinion - means anything but!

But last year the National Academy of Sciences published an article, which said that ;Disclosing Information about the Self is Intrinsically Rewarding.; The authors found that when they did brain scans on people talking about themselves there was heightened activity in the same regions associated with rewards for food, money or sex. This occurred not only from outright bragging, but also when the experimental group answered neutral questions about themselves.

The researchers even found that people were willing to give up small amounts of money to talk about themselves, rather than about others.

This information helps me to understand the next step in the braggart's hierarchy: what the British call under-bragging or ;humble-bragging.; This occurs when you complain about something picayune to show your more magnificent accomplishment.

"Oh, my training for the Boston Marathon is going so badly."

Or:  "The cell phone service in Cancun is so poor!"

The opportunities for under-bragging about children or grandchildren are limitless. "Oh, woe! our little Jason can't decide which he loves more, his cello or learning Chinese." or "I can't believe Susie got double 800's on her SAT's."  She didn't get that brilliance from me!"

Tired of celebrating your kids? Find a way to repeat someone else's praise of you, in a modest way of course."Oh,I'm not really as good a bowler as Bob says I am."

I have a friend who worked 40 years for the New York Times. He and his fellow reporters had a betting game about new employees. How long would it be before they "dropped the H-bomb?" - that is, inserted into casual conversation the news that the speaker had gone to Harvard? The record was 90 seconds!

Would you stand on the street corner and shout your accomplishments? Probably not. But now, from the comfort of your computer or the mobility of your cell phone, Facebook and Twitter have loosed a pandemic of bragging about your transitory triumphs. Moreover, you're not bragging; like good kindergarteners, your're sharing - with your friends and followers.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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