What is Hidden Behind Bragging / Spiritual Meditations

two guys, one bragging

I’m always surprised when one of my friends mentions a donation they are making to a charitable cause, especially if they mention a monetary amount.  It doesn’t happen often, which just adds to the impression.   It is great that they want to help, but Matthew 6:1 pops into my head and I wonder if they want recognition or applause as well.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness (charitable deeds) in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matt 6:1)

This does not contradict Jesus’ previous command to let your light so shine before men (Matthew 5:16). Although Christians are to be seen doing good works, they must not do good works simply to be seen.  The issue is really a matter of motive.

If someone finds out that we have given something, do we automatically lose our reward? If we give for our own glory, it doesn’t matter if no one finds out, we will still have no reward from God. But if we give because of our love of God and neighbor, it doesn’t matter who finds out, because our reward will remain because we gave for the right motive.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. 4Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:2-4)

In his explanation of Matt 6:3 Spurgeon says  “Keep the thing so secret that even you yourself are hardly aware that you are doing anything at all praiseworthy. Let God be present, and you will have enough of an audience.”

Our Favorite Brags

The desire to be seen in a positive light by other people is certainly not limited to showing off our righteousness.  We commonly throw a spotlight on our houses, cars, income, children, and grandchildren. 

If you are thinking that “bragging on my children is not bragging on me”, think again.  Susan Newman Ph.D. tells us that “by extension our children are us —even though we know they aren’t or shouldn’t be. Considering how easy it is for our adult egos to get wrapped up in our children’s achievements, it makes sense that fulfilling our urge to brag about them is just as satisfying as bragging about ourselves. The urge to up the wattage of a child’s spotlight sometimes overpowers that voice in the back of our head that tells us, “Stop bragging. You sound annoying.”

Some may think nothing of bragging as they gather around the proverbial water cooler and choose to ignore the potential to denigrate or embarrass another person.  Creating jealousy is also a danger, that some may relish. However, every Christian knows that  they are not to cause another to stumble into jealousy or coveting.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  (Luke 17:1)

Bragging Without Words

Ostentation or showing off is another form of bragging. It is characterized by vulgar or pretentious display; designed to impress or attract notice. It is most often demonstrated regarding our possessions: cars, houses, clothing.  But it can be almost anything and can come from unexpected sources.

I was once given a tour of a very large Chicago church.  Astonished by the plush velvet pews and the prolific gold ornamentation I could not help but wonder if donations could  have been put to better use.  The many cathedrals of Europe fall into the same dilemma in their attempt to awe and inspire.

What Bragging Says About You and/or Others

The social norms of bragging refer to the fact that our culture expects people to be modest. People who aren’t modest violate those expectations. There is also a practical side to this social norm. Impression management is all about leading others to view you favorably. If they think you’re trying too hard, they’ll be turned off and you’ll achieve exactly the opposite of your desired impact on others, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.  Additionally, when bragging is based on your self-report only, you run the risk of not being believed.

As appalled, and possibly offended, as we are when we observe immodest display, some knowledge of the insecurities  just below the surface may allow us some compassion for the offender.

According to psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, people who feel inferior go about their days overcompensating through what he called “striving for superiority.” The only way these inwardly uncertain people can feel happy is by making others decidedly unhappy.

At the University of Derby (U.K.) in 2015, psychologist James Brookes analyzed the relationships among overt and covert narcissism, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.  The label “narcissist” is widely deployed to refer to people who appear too full of themselves.  The study concluded the following:

  1. The insecure person tries to make you feel insecure yourself.
    When you start to question your own self-worth, is it typically around a specific person or type of person? Is that individual always broadcasting his or her strengths? If you don’t feel insecure in general, but only around certain people, it’s likely they’re projecting their insecurities onto you.
  2. The insecure person needs to showcase his or her accomplishments.
    You don’t necessarily have to feel insecure around someone to conclude that inferiority is at the heart of their behavior. People who are constantly bragging about their great lifestyle, their elite education, or their fantastic children may very well be doing so to convince themselves that they really do have worth.
  3. The insecure person drops the “humblebrag” far too often.
    The humblebrag is a brag disguised as a self-derogatory statement. You’ve all seen these on Facebook, as when an acquaintance complains about all the travel she must take (due to the importance of her job), or all the time he must spend watching his kids play (and, by the way, win) hockey games. (The “Facebook gloat” is a bold-faced brag which is easier to spot but may very well have the same roots.)
  4. The insecure person frequently complains that things aren’t good enough.
    People high in inferiority like to show what high standards they have. You may label them as snobs, but as much as you realize they’re putting on an act, it may be hard to shake the feeling that they really are better than you. What they’re trying to do, you may rightly suspect, is to proclaim their high standards as a way of asserting that not only are they better than everyone else, but that they hold themselves to a more rigorous set of self-assessment criteria.

Your Best Brag

The best way to brag about yourself to others is probably not to brag at all. Let other people do the bragging for you. However, because our feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence rest on being able to take pride in our achievements, it’s not only okay, but healthy, to brag about yourself to yourself or loved ones who share your joy. Giving yourself a mental pat on the back for a job well done can help boost your feelings of self-efficacy, prepare you for future successes, and even avoid the experience of depression.

You can find related material in this link entitled Unlock Your Leadership Trait – Humility.

Summing it Up in Quotes

“Good deeds should be done with intention, not for attention.”

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“Create a life that feels good on the inside not one that just looks good on the outside.”

“Happy people don’t go through life collecting recognition. They go through life giving it away.”  (This link encourages you to encourage others)

“He who is humble is confident and wise. He who brags is insecure and lacking.” ― Lisa Edmondson

“People who brag only crave attention from others. While humble people have all the happiness with no need to flaunt it.”

No matter how big your house is, how recent your car is, or how big your bank account is. Our graves will always be the same size. Stay Humble.

“Bragging is often merely a ladder we build for ourselves out of words when we are afraid we are not tall enough in the eyes of the world. It is an unwitting confession to low self-esteem.” ― P.M. Forni

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References

Why Some People Can’t Stop Bragging | Psychology Today) by Susan Newman Ph.D.

 Bragging: When Is It OK and When Is It Not OK? | Psychology Today) by Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

 4 Signs That Someone Is Insecure | Psychology Today by Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

Enduring Word Bible Commentary Matthew Chapter 6

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