By John Chandler
False modesty is as old as humanity itself — see the fate of Haman in the biblical story of Esther. But give credit to comedian Harris Wittels, writer for the NBC series Parks and Recreation, whose Twitter feed and book, both called “Humblebrag,” catalyzed the term that has given expression to a viral form of false humility in North American culture. Yes, I am talking about the pervasive plots of the attention-starved to gain accolades on as broad a platform as possible, and without being accused of gross bragging.
In the words of the New York Times, the self-promoting craft of humblebragging typically “attempts to convey one of three messages: ‘I have too much work’; ‘I am an idiot/impostor’; or ‘I have firsthand knowledge of the gritty gilt to be found inside the gilded cage.’” It is a way of describing your irreplaceable busyness and selfless service to humanity without actually having to pay the social price of naked braggadocio and egomania.
Just pretend that a virtue is a shortcoming, or that you don’t “deserve” to be included in some high cotton: “Honored and humbled to be given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be included in (fill in the blank of some exclusive honor, event or company).” See there? You bring social attention to the fact that you’re a big deal but also get credit for your moral uprightness by virtue of your humility. I can be awesome but self-effacing at the same time!
No one should be surprised that our narcissistic culture on social media steroids has gone the way of the humblebrag, but every Christian ought to be alarmed at any whiff of it in the church. It paints a thin, clear coat of humble over a thick wall of proud. In terms of discipleship, after all, a humblebrag is a double technical foul. It is both immodest and duplicitous.
Christian humblebrag often begins with words like, “Blessed to be …, Honored to be included in …, So grateful for ….” So if you hear any of these among your church buddies, call a personal foul, and accept the correction should they call one on you. Simply comment, “humblebrag,” and let the chips fall where they may.
If there should be anything countercultural about a disciple’s social media presence, it should be the complete absence of humblebrag.