A Defense of Boasting

We now have a very low estimation of boasters. They are loud-mouthed, arrogant, sometimes self-deceiving, and, while boasting especially, very inconsiderate of others. Such a level of self-importance disgusts us, the non-boasters.

We have the presumption that those who are properly confident have no need to speak of themselves, let alone to sing their own praises. I can’t help but feel that this is on the whole true: confidence in oneself often functions as the quiet background against which one can easily act and speak about all other things but oneself. Confidence reveals itself without speaking itself, without needing to speak of anything but everything else.

But now let me ask why we are revolted by boasters and why boasting ended up falling out of favor. The start of an explanation of our disgust and boasting’s illegitimacy would be to claim that honor societies have disappeared. Beowulf’s boasting in Beowulf and Achilles’s in The Iliad are the means by which they made their claims to glory and through which they roused their spirits to fight. For boasting puffs up the victor–this speaks to the claim about glory–and it also encourages us to overcome our fears of pain, disgrace, and death. The scene is battle, and the life is that of the warrior. Fear is the great enemy, and thus boasting often a fine friend. With the end of honor culture comes the end of the need for boasting–or so we have come to believe.

The danger (and I do mean danger) with our time is that we have gotten used to desiring safety and comfort and of seeking securities and guarantees and thus the dominant virtues have been market prudence (by all means, do not do what is unsafe or risky) and watered-down compassion (feel what it is like for someone who has suffered). Under these conditions, we have grown undeniably soft, very, very soft indeed, without the ability to stomach dissatisfaction, and so we have not learned that risk is greater than safety; that danger is something to confront; that fear, fright, panic, and anxiety must be looked straight in the face; that there are goods that require going through pain or at least not dodging it.

I submit that the period of comfort, safety, and security could be coming to an end. For some, it already has. Mustn’t toughness, which involves wisely enduring some things, bounding forth in situations of risk, and persevering under pressure, be our most supreme virtue?

To return: let me therefore make a qualified defense of boasting, at least the spirit of it. Forget about the victory speeches: those can go away for all we care. But how can we rouse ourselves to endure what is fearful or to charge forth in the face of the dreadful unless we are able to rile ourselves up, putting fire in our bellies, fanning the flames? Feel the fear secrete. Then what? Fold, give in, crumple up? No way. Rouse, rile, gnash instead. How? Through words of encouragement, perhaps even through boasting words spouted into the air.

Sure, boasting of this kind may be crude, a little ugly, but who is to say that it is not in such a case necessary and effective? Whining and complaining comes in spades today. How commonplace and how disgusting. Let us instead show ourselves our hardiness, even on occasion in foul, sailor speech. Better this than giving in to horror.