"It's hard to be humble when you stuntin' on the jumbotron." —Kanye West
Some new pop science suggests that humble bragging doesn't work—that it actually makes people dislike you. Yeah, that's because most people aren't doing it right. Either their humble brag isn't humble enough, or it's nothing to brag about. You're sore from running a half marathon? Naw, that's not a humble brag. You're broke because you donated to charity? Borrrrrring. Let me humbly present you with this master class in the humble brag, first shared on this site a couple of years ago.
I believe I have developed an absolutely perfect "humble brag"—alternately humble and brag, entertaining and enlightening, and all true. Let me try it out on you. You be the judge. I'll remove the name of the eminent person who stars in this, and I'll kindly thank Writing Boots readers who have heard this humble brag in person not to take it upon yourself to ID the man either. He doesn't deserve it.
Through an unlikely series of connections, I wound up advising a very prominent American on a communication issue. He didn't take any of my advice, because he realized before I did that it wasn't actually a communication issue at all, but an action issue. Still, he felt the need to thank me for my counsel, so the next time I visited his town he took me to his exclusive, old-world social club for lunch. The lunch was entirely intimidating, on account of the man's sheer intelligence and commanding bearing. Also, it's uncomfortable to sit at a table in a room full of prominent people all looking at you out of the corner of their eye and thinking, "Who's that dude with _______?"
So though my prominent American luncheon companion couldn't have been more solicitous or charming to me, I was relieved when the meal was over and he offered to give me a tour of the old two-story club. I subtly ascertained that the tour was part of a graceful exit process. During the tour, the prominent American's car would be brought around, so that at the end of it he would thank me, shake my hand and simply step into the car and disappear. No awkward standing and waiting. Prominence smooths things out.
But something happened on the way through the club toward the smooth exit. The prominent American took me through the club's library, where members (still!) sip sherry and read books in overstuffed chairs in the afternoon window light. The librarian sat at her desk, and my prominent escort introduced me to her.
"This is David Murray. He's the editor of a magazine called Vital Speeches of the Day."
To both of our surprise, her jaw dropped open as if it was 1964 and I was Paul McCartney.
"Vital Speeches? You're? The editor of? Vital Speeches?!?"
"Why yes," I puffed, my chest suddenly re-inflating after an hour's slow leak.
She leapt to her feet to shake my hand. "I love Vital Speeches!" she said, and launched into an explanation of how long she had been a librarian and how long she had filed Vital Speeches and how she just received our annual index the other day and how she always wondered what sort of person edited Vital Speeches and how it must be very difficult to choose the very best 10 speeches every month, and how many speeches do I receive and how many do I reject ….
As she went on like that, I could see in my peripheral vision the prominent American smiling politely but shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his car no doubt waiting for him by now in the portico and his exit now delayed by this sudden reversal in relative prominence.
Now clearly, that story is not only a humble brag, but rather it's at least two humble brags in one. But what am I supposed to do, not tell it? I'll be goddamned if I'm not going to tell that story. Over, and over, and over again, until everyone I know has heard it. And then I'll start telling it again, because the first people who heard it will have forgotten many of the details and at any rate will want to hear it again.
And why? Because it's a good story, and because it makes me look simultaneously cool and humble.
I'll tell that story, and many other stories with the similar self-deprecating heroism. It's a time-honored storytelling tradition, and actually, kind of an American theme. And it's a hell of a lot more amusing than just saying, "I had lunch with _______!"
So to those who dismiss the "humble-braggarts" of the world, I'd suggest maybe you should go out and do something worth humble-bragging about.