Lou Holtz is a legendary college football coach and is also known as a well-respected man of wise advice. He once said, “If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today.” How true that is! Often times you will hear someone brag about what they did as a kid, a teenager, a college student, a young entrepreneur, or some act of kindness. But as Holtz put it, that was yesterday. So what have you done today?
As psychologist Andrea F. Polard notes, while envy can destroy a relationship, overt or covert bragging can prevent them from developing in the first place. A boaster creates gaps between themselves and others, which cannot (and should not) be bridged. They place themselves on a higher elevation, more advanced, and out of other’s reach. However, in a moralistic society, most people prefer to relate to others on equal footing instead of allowing someone to make themselves bigger than they really are. Even though we might feel secure as part of the leadership team, there is still a kid inside all of us. We are most happy when we connect with each other in mutual respect and appreciation. And most aggravating of all, are those who continue to brag about what they did last year or ten years ago.
Roman philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) in his book on Meditations wrote that one of his teachers named Rusticus helped him understand some important things when it came to having a moderate lifestyle and still be happy. Because of that, he never became attached to being admired for either his lavish living nor as one who lived with the least amount of comfort. He also said that he never displayed an air of grandeur by walking home in his senatorial robe, or by any such things. He never wrote fancy letters with complicated words or sentences just to impress the reader. When he wrote his mother from the seacoast town of Sinuessa she knew he was still the boy she raised. Rusticus also taught himself to remain at ease and open to reconciliation with those who spoke badly about him. Also, not to be satisfied with a light and superficial knowledge; nor quickly to assent to great talkers.1
It is very clear that Aurelius had no interest in being an egotist or braggart. He also made up his mind not to be offended when someone said something derogatory about him, but rather, start looking or a way to be conciliatory with them. Along with what Aurelius had to say, here are some things to keep in mind when encountering a braggart. For one thing, that talk about themselves incessantly; they are always fishing for compliments; they want to be everyone’s buddy; they feel the need to belong; they act as if they are running after something they can’t catch up with; they are prone to force their religious, political, or moral views on others; they are always looking for people just like them; they often dominate every conversation; they brag about the accomplishments with a lot of embellishment; they brag about their work position; and they seem to know everyone that you know. So don’t be surprised when you hear these things and become upset. You already knew it was coming.
These are the signs of a person who over communicates. In other words, they say more than is really needed to get their point across. As such, they appear bossy and critical of everyone and everything. Since no one else will brag on them, they constantly and shamelessly brag about themselves. Furthermore, they often take credit for things that others have done. Being insecure means that they are someone who needs attention; someone who needs constant approval from everyone all the time. You certainly can be their friend, but not because of their bragging but because they need help.
You may have a close friend who is constantly bragging, you may feel annoyed. Even if you love your friend very much, you may not be able to deal with their constant effort to be better than you. Sometimes, you might not feel like your friend cares about you at all. A friend who brags too much may not be aware of how their actions affect others. By coping with their actions in positive ways, you can repair your friendship.
Here are some simple methods that I have read about that may be of help to all of us. First of all, control your own actions. You can do this by coming up with something else to talk about. Some current event or top news story, the latest movie, or the heroic actions of a good Samaritan or first-responders to a tragedy. It could also be something funny that happened and everyone is talking about it. If they keep turning the conversation back to themselves, find some legitimate reason to excuse yourself. In fact, if you know you are going to meet with them, make sure you have another appointment you must get to within the next thirty minutes. They might appreciate that you are taking a little time out just for them.
Secondly, don’t compete with them. If your friend is always one-upping you, you may feel the urge to top them. This will only worsen the problem: your friend will want to top you and you will feel even angrier. When you feel the urge, hold your tongue. Stooping to their level will not help. Never lie about your accomplishments in an attempt to top them. Even if they don’t find out, you will likely feel bad for lying.
Thirdly, try to set an example for your friend. If you notice yourself bragging, correct yourself out loud and avoid bragging in the future. Apologize to your friend and say something like, “I didn’t realize I have been bragging. I’ll try not to do that in the future. I know it makes people feel bad.” If you make an effort to stop, your friend might do the same thing.
Even if your friend knows they have a problem, they might feel too embarrassed to change their behavior. Knowing that other people, and even you, struggle with the same thing it might push them towards improvement. Do not brag on purpose just to self-correct yourself. This is passive-aggressive. Your friend may not necessarily pick up on the hint, but they may pick up on your anger. Instead, become self-aware of your own bragging habits.
Fourthly, don’t insult your friend thinking it will wake them up to the truth about their behavior. People often don’t realize how their bragging hurts others. Your friend might not mean to hurt your feelings. Treat them kindly and with respect. Ganging up against them will not solve the problem. If your friend only brags on occasion, try your best to be understanding. Everyone wants to brag from time to time. We all want to share our accomplishments and our life’s high points with friends and family. So if your friend is emphasizing the point that they have achieved or received something that you don’t have or can never acquire, don’t let that pass without a response. In such a case, have an appropriate, but non-aggressive or critical conversation in which you let them know how you feel about what they just said.
Fifthly, change the way you compliment them. How you praise them can either reinforce or curb their bragging behavior. Complement their actions rather than them personally. Saying, “You’re so amazing!” may give them an incentive for bragging in the future. Instead, say, “You did a good job under the circumstances.” It puts emphasis on the action, not on them, and encourages them to work hard. If your friend is fishing for praise, you do not have to compliment them. Treat them kindly, but put attention on something else besides their actions. You might say, for example, “I appreciate how much effort you put into the project you’re telling me about, I’m sure it couldn’t have gotten done it without your contribution.”
So, does the Word of God have anything to say about this? Yes, it does. Wise King Solomon was not hesitant in saying that if we let pride overtake us it will lead to being shamed when the truth is known. In fact, pride makes it impossible for a person to gain any wisdom.2 Later on, Solomon let people know that the person who brags too much about things they’ve never really done but one day plan to do is like a dark cloud in the sky with no rain.3 We might say, they are all thunder and lightning. As a matter of fact, Solomon says that if there’s anything to brag about concerning things we’ve done, let someone else do it. Just keep your mouth shut and listen.4
When the prophet Jeremiah was called to deliver the Lord’s message to the children of Israel, he too must have faced those who were fond of bragging. So the Lord told Jeremiah to say this: “Don’t go around bragging about how smart you are. Don’t run your mouth about all the things you think you can do. And don’t make a big deal out of how successful you’ve been. If you want to boast about anything, let people know how great God is; the One who shows loving-kindness and always does the right thing at the right time. The Lord said, “I’m very happy when you do that.”
So when Jesus came many years later, He brought the same message. But He put it in a different context. He told His followers that they should think of themselves as God’s children. Even so, He lets the sun shine on good and bad people; He sends the rain on those who do what’s right and those who do what’s wrong.5 In other words, in order to be like our heavenly Father, we should treat both those we like and those we don’t like with the same kindness and understanding. That includes those who are addicted to bragging. In the same sermon, Jesus goes on to tell those listening to Him that they should not become showoffs when it comes to how they treat others with kid’s gloves just to get the applause of those who are watching. When you do that, don’t expect God to reward you because you’ve already gotten your reward.6
The Apostle Paul must have been told or read, what Jesus taught His followers because when it came to sharing with others about how they should respond to those who do things that aggravate them, he warned that you are not to do the same thing to them they are doing to you. When you do, you will end up as guilty as they are of being a loudmouth with very little evidence to back up your claims.7 And in another letter Paul tells his readers that if we truly have the Spirit of God living in us, then whatever our circumstances may be we will supernaturally respond with love, joy, peace, not giving up, being kind, being good, being faithful, being gentle, and being in charge of how we respond.8
And when the Apostle wrote to the Philippian believers, he asked them if they felt like they were strong because they had Christ in their lives? Did His love for them bring them any comfort? Did they have a sense of joy because God had shared His Holy Spirit with them? And did they find it easier showing loving-kindness and compassion to others?9 With that kind of attitude and demeanor it would certainly be easier for a believer to deal with a know-it-all rather than simply turning a deaf ear and walking away.
Then in his letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds them that God was the One who chose them to be part of His both earthly family and heavenly family. As a result, they are special to God and He loves them very much. That’s why they should find it easier to be understanding with others without thinking that they were doing them a great favor. Instead, they’ve learned how to be gentle with those others might find annoying, and willing to listen to what they have to say. Rather than looking for ways to lecture them and straighten them out, they look for ways to get along and make them feel accepted. Look for ways to see through their self-praise and find something that can be salvaged. After all, that’s what God did for them so why can’t they do it for others?10
Then the Apostle of love, John, adds his finishing touch to this subject. He points out that even though we may have what we need to cope with life’s ups and downs when you see someone who is severely lacking in those virtues and traits that makes a person levelheaded, don’t just go on your merry way and shake your head in pity. Take the time to see what you can do to help them. If you claim to be a true believer and do not go out of your way to assist those in need of guidance and counsel, then how can you claim to have the love of God in your life?
The whole point here seems to be that instead of looking at those who go around talking excessively about their achievements and accomplishments as a problem that needs fixing, look at their unreasonable pride and boastfulness as a symptom to a bigger problem. Take the time to listen, even if it does require a lot of patience. Ask God to give you the wisdom and discernment you need to find an opportunity to really go to the heart of their dilemma. They’ve probably been told many times that they are full of hot air and extremely boring. What they need to hear from you is that the same God who loved you loves them. The same Jesus that lives in your heart wants to live in their heart as well. And the same Holy Spirit that you depend on for wisdom and discernment, wants to be their comforter too. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: Book I:4
2 Proverbs 11:2
3 Ibid. 25:14
4 Ibid. 27 2
5 Matthew 5:45
6 Ibid. 6:1
7 Romans 2:1
8 Galatians 5:22-23
9 Philippians 2:1
10 Colossians 3:12-13