28 April 2007

Deceptive Self-Disclosures

In the old days, this used to be called 'boasting' or 'bragging'.

Some people aren't very good at it; the brags and boasts are obvious. They drop names. They start every sentence with "I did..." "I know..." "I have..." "I went..." -- I, I, I.

Others are slightly more subtle. "My best friend has..." "Our second house..." "When we were in [expensive resort]..."

Others are downright insidious. "Oh goodness, I couldn't hate someone if my life depended on it." "You all know me, I couldn't carry a grudge if I had six strong men helping me." "Well, I just love people so much, I can't ever really stay angry at anyone."

Boasting or bragging directly about material possessions, wealth, and status are pretty obvious indicators of vanity and insecurity. Boasting or bragging indirectly about such things also indicates vanity and insecurity. It's easy to identify what's going on, and it's even possible to feel compassion for the people who engage in it. It's obvious; they're fragile.

There are competitive undertones, however, that we ignore at our peril, since people who are this insecure and vain are also usually driven by a terrible fear of loss; if they only value themselves for what they own, then showing them our own treasures is a very risky move, as they may feel threatened by anyone who has 'more' or 'better' anything than themselves.

Boasting or bragging directly or indirectly about one's own character, however, is on a different level. This is the territory of manipulation, sleight-of-hand, deception. Call it advertising, or even propaganda, if it's in a political context. And ask yourself why it's going on.

Why would someone feel a need to announce repeatedly to the world what kind of person they are? Don't their actions tell us enough about them without the need for voice over narration to drum it into our heads?

Usually, when a message of this type is being endlessly repeated in our ears, it is intended to distract our attention, and prevent us from looking closely at the actual behavior of the person repeating their self-praise mantra.

In fact, everyone who has been deliberately abused - at home, at school, in a social setting, or on the job - has probably been frustrated by the fact that their abuser shows one face to them, and quite another to the public - and the public face usually includes this kind of boasting and bragging about the goodness, kindness, patience, and tolerance of the abuser, along with some kind of implied or overt comparison intended to put down the target of their abuse.

This is nothing but product positioning, in marketplace language. Creating a 'brand identity' that has little or no connection to the reality of what you get when you actually open the package. And making sure that the target of abuse is firmly identified as "brand X", the inferior product, in the minds of the studio audience.

Character propagandizing can be a harmless, rather sad exercise in self-promotion, if there is no abuse associated with it. It can be a very harmful exercise in group deception, however, if the same person who praises themselves to the skies is, in fact, bullying or abusing others and relying on a steady stream of self-promotion to cloud awareness of the fact.

Watch for this. Whenever someone makes announcements about their own character, start looking for the evidence they don't want you to see. The more time they spend telling you what they're like, the more likely it is that they're trying to keep you from seeing the kind of person they really are.

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