Beware of Boasting
TODAY many view boasting as a virtue. Showing off one’s strengths, skills, and accomplishments has become fashionable. Some believe that boasting is necessary to achievement. Others feel that it raises one’s self-esteem. Observes Time magazine: “The ideal of modesty, though hardly dead, has begun to seem almost quaint.” Writer Jody Gaylin comments: “Unfortunately, unabashed boasting . . . is the latest fashion. Conversation with a friend or acquaintance has a new accompaniment: horn-tooting.”
Role models have set the standard. You may have heard the words of a former boxing champion: “It ain’t no accident that I’m the greatest man in the world at this time in history.” The statement of a member of the music group the Beatles is also well-known: “We’re more popular than Jesus Christ now.” While some viewed such comments as having been said innocently, others saw those who uttered them as role models of self-promotion worthy to be followed.
The prevalence of boasting raises the question: Is it healthy to brag of one’s own assets and abilities? It is natural, of course, to take pride in one’s accomplishments and even to share these with close friends and relatives. But what of those who live by the saying, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”? Further, what of those who, while not openly boasting, subtly make sure that others come to know of their strengths and achievements? Is such self-advertising healthy, even necessary, as some claim?
Effect on Relationships
Consider the effect that others’ boasting has on you. For example, how do you respond to the following statements?
“The books I haven’t written are better than the books other people have.”—Well-known author.
“Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.”—Medieval king.
“There cannot be a God because, if there were one, I would not believe that I was not He.”—19th-century philosopher.
Are you drawn to these individuals by their comments? Do you think you would enjoy their company? Likely not. As a rule, boasting—in earnest or even in jest—causes others to feel tense, annoyed, perhaps envious. This is the effect it had on the psalmist Asaph, who confessed: “I became envious of the boasters.” (Psalm 73:3) Surely, none of us want to be the cause of bad feelings in our friends and associates! First Corinthians 13:4 states: “Love . . . does not brag.” Godly love and sensitivity to others’ feelings will move us to refrain from flaunting our supposed skills and assets.
When a person controls himself and speaks modestly, he makes others around him feel comfortable and good about themselves. This is a priceless ability. Perhaps British statesman Lord Chesterfield had this in mind when he advised his son: “Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.”
People do not have the same gifts. What comes with relative ease to one person is simply not another’s strength. Love will move a person to deal sympathetically with those who are not gifted in areas where he has abilities. Likely, the other individual has gifts in other fields. The apostle Paul told us: “Through the undeserved kindness given to me I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind, each one as God has distributed to him a measure of faith.”—Romans 12:3.
Boasting Stems From Weakness
While some may withdraw from braggarts, feeling inferior in their presence, others react differently. They conclude that boasters are insecure. Writer Frank Trippett explains why the person who blows his own horn may, ironically, lower his esteem in the eyes of others: “Everybody knows at heart that boasting usually signals some pathetic private weaknesses.” Since many see right through the boaster’s mask, is it not wiser to refrain from windy self-praise?
“But It’s True!”
This is how some try to justify self-glorification. They feel that since they truly are gifted in certain respects, to pretend otherwise would be hypocritical.
But is their boasting true? Self-estimation tends to be subjective. What we perceive as an outstanding strength in ourselves may appear ordinary to others. The fact that a person feels compelled to show off his ability could even suggest that he is not so strong after all—not strong enough to stand on his own without advertisement. The Bible acknowledges the human tendency toward self-deception when it admonishes: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Corinthians 10:12.
Even if a person is unusually talented in a particular area, does this justify bragging? No, because bragging glorifies humans, whereas any talents we have come from God. He should receive the glory. Why should we receive credit for something we were born with? (1 Corinthians 4:7) Besides, just as we have strengths, we also have weaknesses. Does honesty require that we attract attention to our faults and flaws? Few boasters seem to think so. King Herod Agrippa I may have been a truly gifted speaker. Yet his lack of modesty led to a very unpleasant death. That ugly incident reflects how distasteful conceit is to God, as it is also to many humans.—Acts 12:21-23.
Talents and strengths generally become known without undue self-advertisement. When others recognize and commend one’s qualities or accomplishments, it reflects more graciously on the receiver. Proverbs 27:2 wisely says: “May a stranger, and not your own mouth, praise you; may a foreigner, and not your own lips, do so.”
Needed for Accomplishment?
Some feel that confident self-promotion is necessary for achievement in today’s competitive society. They worry that if they do not speak up and advertise their strengths, they will go unnoticed, unappreciated. Representative of their concern is this comment from Vogue magazine: “Where once we were taught that modesty is a virtue, now we’re learning that reticence can be a handicap.”
For those who wish to make progress by this world’s standards, the concern may be a valid one. But the Christian’s situation is different. He knows that God cares for and chooses to use the abilities of those who are humble, not haughty. Therefore, the Christian has no need to resort to egotistical tactics. True, an overconfident individual may gain temporary prestige by being forceful or manipulative. Yet in time he is exposed and humbled, even humiliated. It is as Jesus Christ stated: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”—Matthew 23:12; Proverbs 8:13; Luke 9:48.
Advantages of Modesty
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” His comment is in agreement with the apostle Paul’s divinely inspired exhortation that Christians do “nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior.” (Philippians 2:3) This modest viewpoint puts one in a position to learn from others.
So watch that your strength does not become your weakness. Do not detract from your abilities and accomplishments by boasting. Add to your virtues the quality of modesty. This is what truly raises one’s esteem in the eyes of others. It helps one to enjoy better relationships with fellow humans and brings the approval of Jehovah God.—Micah 6:8; 2 Corinthians 10:18.