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This is how I define humblebragging: when someone talks/posts about something good that’s happened in their life as point of fact, but the audience perceives it as boasting. Key point: part of what makes a humblebrag come off as crowing is the reaction of the person who is consuming it.

Personally, I know that when I read about how much someone laughed after something their kid has said or done, or how someone is so exhausted but happy from all the exercise they’ve completed, I cannot control my sneer of derision. It’s partly because I feel that social media, when done right, should provide something for your audience, whether that’s humour, intrigue, a point of debate, or education. Hearing about how the vegan paleo cookies you just made taste just like Mrs. Fields’ doesn’t do anything for me.

If you feel hurt by this, my apologies for eliciting those feelings, but this is not actually about you. The bitter annoyance I feel when I read your posts has to do with my own self-criticism about what I feel are shortcomings. When I see that you’ve just completed your first half marathon and feel awesome, I only feel the opposite of awesome because I’m self-admonishing for not having the discipline and drive to have done the same.

And make no mistake–just because I speak out about the humble humblebrag, does not mean that I don’t do it myself. As a critic, I have studied the phenomena closely, which means that I know how to do it with a subtle and creative flair, but it’s definitely still exaltation. But recently, I’ve given some thought on how this all could serve a valuable purpose…

My friend, neighbour, fellow school parent, and professional mentor Laurie Dillon-Schalk tweeted this today:

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(“RAoK” = Random Act of Kindness)

And then:

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I’ve known Laurie for a few years and can honestly say that she is one of the most genuine, honest, well-meaning people I know–with no self-serving ulterior motives. This one time, we were walking down the street on a windy day when we came across a shopkeeper’s potted plant that had been blown over. Laurie handed me her coffee, squatted down on the sidewalk, righted the plant, then scraped up the upended dirt with her hands and put it back in the pot. When I commented on how it had been a nice thing to do, Laurie just shrugged and said someone had to do it.

As with her tweets above, telling others about something good that you have done, to encourage them to do the same, can serve us all well in helping make the world a better, nicer place to live. Here’s another example:

Last Wednesday, I woke up at 5am to meet Paul Nazareth at the Eaton Centre before he had to go to work. I am currently looking for a meaningful new career and was told Paul would be a worthy connection. (Check out his Twitter profile for his mission, which in itself is pretty exemplary.) This proved to be very true and by the end of our conversation around 8:30, while I was sated intellectually, my belly was empty, a glass of water and a cup of coffee the only things I had been able to get down that early. Lightheaded and a little wobbly, I bought a hot cup of hearty soup and took it to go for my ride home.

As soon as I got into the subway, I was approached by a man asking for change. “So I can get something to eat?” he added. Shorter than me, scrawny, messy grey hair, craggy leather-like skin, wearing a grimy too-big ski jacket, a gaping, shiny hole where his right eye should have been.

I don’t generally give change to those who ask. It’s not simply because I don’t want the money to go toward booze or drugs, but reaching into the pocket of my warm coat, or pulling my cute wallet out of my fashionable purse to hand someone a smattering of coins makes me feel like an idiot.

“Would you like my soup?” I asked the man. He bowed his head and reached out for it. “It’s not spicy, is it?” I answered no and handed over the spoon as well. I turned and walked away sheepishly, half-wondering if he’d noticed me staring at his eye hole, the other half wondering if anyone had seen what I’d done. I wished there’d been more people around.

As I sat there on the train, stomach grumbling, I started mentally writing notes for this blog post. How could I write it without sounding like an ass? I wanted to let people know what I’d done, but not for Likes, Favstars and back-patting, but because I wanted them to do stuff like this too. If I stated that deliberately, would it make it all right?

Later that day, I told my 8 year-old daughter about what I’d done. I told her that I had really wanted the soup, but I just ate when I got home. She didn’t really react and I see this as a good thing. I make a point of explaining to her why we’re ordering extra food for the guy standing outside the restaurant, or why I’m wiping down the counter in a public bathroom and picking paper towels off the floor, or why I’m gathering up newspaper from the sidewalk and putting it in the recycling bin. I want her to think of these actions as normal, as societal obligations that she too should take on without a second thought, without feeling weird, without fear of judgment, and without having to write a blog post about it.

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5 thoughts on “How to Humblebrag Without Being a D-bag: Serving yourself while serving others

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