Recently, I wrote a Blog post on why can’t we stop showing off (1st December 2020). The main part of that post was a story in NY Times about how to get readers get introduced to classical music. This was filled with experts selecting obscure pieces and describing in such technical terms that only other experts will understand. I thought they were showing off instead of sharing their knowledge.

I followed that soon after with a document introducing the recipients to classical music. Prompted by a gentle jab from a friend asking if now I was showing off, I started thinking. First, I asked the recipients if they felt that I was indeed showing off. I got a resounding response….no I was not. Then, I thought about when sharing becomes showing off. Here is what I came up with. Let’s start from the very beginning.

What do we share?

We share information about ourselves, where and how we live, our family, what we do, our hobbies.

We share our experiences, our travels, the places we have visited, the people we have met, the places where we have dined.

We share knowledge, something we know, we have learned, we have studied, we have researched.

We share our wealth, donate to worthy causes, help a family member, help a friend in need.

Why do we share?

We share information about ourselves as a way of establishing a social network. Our relationships in part are based on knowing about each other and establishing trust.

We share our experiences to learn about what each one of us have done, where we have gone, what types of friends we have made.

We share our knowledge because it is a part of our job, to help someone learn something new, to start a discussion on a new topic.

We share our wealth because of altruistic purposes, and make ourselves feel good.

Why else do we share?

An additional reason for sharing is that being liked, admired, and respected by others will boost our ego.

People may say good things about our lives, our family our house, our car, our skills, and that will boost our ego.

The listeners will praise us for the experience we have had, places we have visited, folks we have met, and that will boost our ego.

Our audience of our lecture will be mesmerized by our knowledge and be grateful because they learned something new. That will boost our ego.

We will get heartfelt thanks for the funds received by a worthy cause. Or family member or friend who we assisted will pledge eternal gratitude and that will boost our ego.

Now, in an ideal situation, we should be living a life free from ego, as our wise people say. However, most of us it is impossible to achieve that state. So, this additional reason is important, and for many it might be the driver for sharing.

When does sharing become showing off?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The person listening to us talk about our house, our life, our family, our car may also think how egotistical we are. Although that is not what they will say in our faces. Their praise will not be sincere.

The folks listening to us talk, without them asking, about our experiences may think, “Here he goes again. I have heard about your Antarctica trip enough number of times. Just shut up.” Of course, they will maintain their pleasant demeanor.

The audience of our lecture, or a recipient of a massive document containing our knowledge, will say “I don’t understand a thing. If he were genuinely trying to impart knowledge, why wouldn’t he take my interests and limitations in to account?”

The person listening to our tales of donation will say, “He is doing it just to brag about it.”

In short, the recipient of our exchange will think that we are showing off.

Now again, for some this may be the ultimate goal. Getting their ego stroked is not sufficient, they want to feel superior to the recipients.

How can we stop showing off?

Showing off can be harmful in several ways. The relationships we are trying to build may not take hold and the existing ones my erode. We will come across as an egomaniac or a fool, not the most complimentary descriptions to aspire to.

So, we should be aware when our sharing may slip into showing off. How do we do that?

The most important element in making sure we don’t fall into the trap is to know the recipients of our sharing. Who is the audience?

It is one thing if we are talking about our big house on a seashore with someone in the same wealth level, another if the listener is a person with more modest means.

It is one thing if we are comparing notes with another well-travelled person, another if the friend has barely left town.

It is one thing if we are discussing classical music with a peer, another if we are doing that with a layperson who is genuinely interested in knowing more about the field.

It is one thing if we keep the story of our donations just to ourselves, another if we use it to impress a new set of recipients…our family and friends.

That’s my thinking on the topic.

I am a retired management consultant who enjoys reading and writing on a variety of subjects. I am fascinated by people, places and physics.