Reception. Observation. Perception. Emotion.

How Flimsy the Foundation of Self-Opinion

Attention starved, inflatable
An ego that is insatiable
You’ve always been so superior
Avoid eye contact with the mirror

—Helmet, “Insatiable”

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.

—Proverbs 11:2 (NIV)

During my most recent tour of duty through the halls of an American institution of higher education—one that, for the most part, admirably promotes Christian ideals—I found myself surrounded on all sides and at nearly all times by an ongoing construction project. The builders were passionate about their undertaking, their dedication unparalleled. You see, they were, and still are, perpetually building up themselves. Whether embellishing the irrelevant pseudo-accomplishments of their past or interjecting nuggets of non-wisdom into every conversation, these paragons of pomposity continually spew forth their ignorance like so much anthrax.

Perhaps I have spent too much time either gently serving the volleyball of self-deprecation or executing the occasional spike of ironic aggression, but there exists in this region of our great nation a distinct lack of appreciation for these vital brands of humor. In its stead lies a wasteland devoid of the refreshing waters of humility, a landscape made desolate by those who incessantly claim to know all about gardening but prove strangely incapable of performing any sort of task reflecting such apparent expertise.

Tired of the metaphors? Allow me to offer some pragmatic suggestions. If you played collegiate soccer on an intramural level, don’t talk about how incredibly you performed “on the pitch” during your heyday. At best you’re Uncle Rico without the cool van. If you claim to have had an active and prolific dating life, keep in mind that most of the free world considers a date as involving only two people, neither of whom is a chaperon. If you are playing paintball for the first time in your life and announce to your teammates that you have the perfect winning strategy because you “know all about military tactics,” you will lose all shreds of credibility when you subsequently reveal that this know-how has resulted from playing lots of Halo and involves no actual military experience. And if at some point in the past you were fortunate enough to secure a date with a girl who is “really hot,” you may want to consider that this had little to do with your awe-inspiring charisma and even less to do with your protruding fat roll. In fact her thought process was probably more along these lines: “Aww, isn’t that cute! This decidedly average guy worked up the courage to ask me out. Since I’m comfortably self-assured, I see no harm in going out on one date with the big galoot. Plus, providing him with something to brag about to his friends for the next ten years seems like a nice way to help someone less fortunate.”

Basically, all these examples and analogies boil down to two words: reality check. I can easily see why this is such a problem near the border of the Carolinas. The Bible Belt often seems to be buckled one notch too tight, the wearer trying his hardest to appear as if he has spent hours running around the block instead of shuffling to the cupboard for another Moon Pie. Many here are obsessed with establishing their credibility, or more precisely, their “street cred.” Longing for a life of more adventure and greater intrigue, they desperately concoct an image of themselves that will duly impress their fellow actors. And of course, those in the play are only too happy not to disrupt it, gleefully accepting the other characters as real persons, readily substituting the theatrical for the biographical.

The solution to this problem of self-glorification is manifold, but my first advice to all guilty parties is this: if you find yourself approximating the behavior of a human incarnation of Wikipedia, by all means drop out of the conversation immediately. If what follows is stone silence, it likely indicates that you were the only one who cared about what was being said. I have long believed that the only thing worse than lacking self-confidence is having a surplus of it, and nowhere is this principle clearer than in these glorified prattlers, the type who, for example, resent those with honorary doctorates, because they fancy themselves even more deserving of such a title.

Perhaps the problem stems from our repression—you know, that dirty word that always gets tossed into the face of the “religious right.” Zealous to combat this accusation, we add a dash of mythology to all our anecdotes, striving to be oracles of wisdom or just darn good raconteurs. Look, hardly any of us in conservative Christian circles are world-class athletes, self-made millionaires, or, for crying out loud, gigolos. So can we stop pretending? Here, I’ll go first: I’m overtly pale, in impressive debt, and my receding hairline is a force to be reckoned with. Guess what? These things make me human, and coming to terms with them is like taking a shower of integrity that washes away the filth of pretense.

I leave you with this final thought, o captivated readers. Do you engage in a given activity primarily to “pad your resume” or to have something to brag about later? What empty and unsatisfying reasons! Why not act with greater purpose? Why not seek to enrich your own life, putting away those trifling motives? Why not keep some experiences, even the most fascinating, to yourself? But most importantly, why not remain silent when your knowledge of a subject barely encompasses the elementary? You may find that by following these steps, you will gain with minimal effort that which you were trying much too hard to obtain unworthily: respect.

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  1. That does seem like a common thread in society these days: rampant pretention. Examples include airbrushed magazine covers and the whole myspace “I can make myself seem like a cool emo kid and then send messages to all the people that I never could talk to in high school” craze. It’s also of note that we live in a country that thinks Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bono and (help us all) Alec Baldwin are great political voices. Something ain’t right.

  2. Wow–you’ve just said a lot of what I’ve been thinking the last few years. It is enormously bothersome to deal with people who can communicate in a broad range of subjects, but only only a superficial level. Even more frustrating are the people who try to come across as expert at everything. I like Socrates’s idea; to paraphrase: “A fool is a man who thinks he knows what he does not; a wise man is one who knows that he does not know.” I think this generation’s theme song–even beyond the boundaries of our mutual institution of learning–is “The Great Pretender.”

  3. Too true. I personally like the “paintball tactics analogy.” Too funny.
    Can we start a band called “Street Cred.” That would be awesome.
    “We are Awesome.”

  4. Quite funny, my friend. An acerbic wit calling for the oh-so-necessary reality check.

  5. Ed, as long as I get to play random jazz flute solos.

  6. ouch! But thanks for this thoughtful and well-written post!

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