Tag Archives: smug

The Smug Spectrum

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Hello, lovely reader.  How did you sleep last night?  Me?  Oh, I had a very weird dream about trying to put on a play in the House of Lords.  David Blunkett wanted to play Oedipus.  Very odd.

Anyway, today I’d like to talk about the various degrees of smugness (smugness?  Smugosity? Smugism?  Who knows) that we come across in day to day life.  As far as I can see, there’s a sliding scale of complacency that we are willing to put up with.  It’s very telling about British society that we have so many synonyms for “smug”, which is a state that we inherently mistrust.  We need lots of words for it so that we can identify exactly what it is about someone else’s demeanour that we find offensive.

Confident: damning with faint praise, in this country.  We say it about ourselves in job applications and we try to demonstrate it in our social interactions, but deep down we don’t believe that anyone is capable of being confident every second of the livelong day.  It’s just not natural.

Cocky: a laddish, raffish, devil-may-care word for someone who is cheekily sure of themselves.  A bit annoying, but essentially harmless.

Self-assured: sounds like a good thing, and in general it is, but for most of us it also conjures up the urge to shout “WHAT?!  How can you be self-assured?  Why aren’t you riddled with self-doubt and paranoia like the rest of us?  Weirdo.”

Vain: get your face out of the mirror, dumbass.  This one is just about having a preoccupation with one’s appearance, which is foolish but not unforgivable.

Smug: a silly-sounding word for a fairly silly state of being.  The word ‘smug’ has connotations of self-satisfaction on a long term basis, which is just unacceptable.  It also makes us think of undeserved good fortune – it is used a lot in reference to celebrities and politicians, after all – rather than genuine achievement.

Arrogant: ah, this is a tricky one.  We say that arrogance is unattractive, and we may well mean it, but there is something weirdly appealing about someone whose self-assurance has been taken to this whole new level.  This one is a bit toxic for would-be friends and lovers, so it’s probably best to avoid these people unless you’ve got very thick skin.

Conceited: arrogance mixed with extreme vanity.  Stay the heck away.

Simon Cowell: almost certainly the devil in (not very convincing) disguise.  Avoid at all costs.  

Have a lovely, Simon Cowell-free day.

Jeremy Bentham Could Do With A Hug

altruism

Hello and welcome to this year’s gazillionth bank holiday Monday!  I hope that you’ve got some lovely activities planned.

Altruism is a very tricky business, and lots of people don’t really believe that it exists.  The philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that humans exist to maximise their own pleasure and minimise their own pain, and that supposedly selfless acts are nothing more than our attempts to feel good via other people’s gratitude, social status, smugness, etc.  (Does anyone else get the feeling that poor Jeremy hasn’t had a lot of love?  Someone give him a cuddle.)

Bentham’s bleak assertion may not sit well with some of us, but it actually taps into something that we’ve all experienced in some way.  We all know the phrase “nice guys finish last”, and that’s a pretty fair summary of how we feel about unrewarded kindness: it’s not fair, and if it’s not fair, why should we bother?

Firstly, life is not fair, and we already know that.  We’re working within an unfair system where hard work is not always rewarded with promotion, love is not always requited and people don’t always say thank you when you hold a door open for them.  Therefore, choosing how to treat others based on what’s ‘fair’ is arbitrary and a bit useless, and deciding whether or not to perform a selfless act based on the injustice of the world is ridiculous.  “I will not help that small child get safely out of the path of that speeding car, because last week a child just like him bashed into my knees at the supermarket.  Fair’s fair.”  Fair is stupid, so forget about it.

Secondly, if you’re that fussed about getting rewarded in the first place, then you’re not being altruistic.  That’s not a criticism of you personally, by the way: after all, who doesn’t like to be rewarded?  Altruism is essentially being kind, generous etc. without any notion of reward: a truly altruistic act is performed by someone who does not even think about the pay off, let alone seek it.  This is sometimes difficult to imagine, and it can get very complicated when we have the best of intentions: making some we love feel better when they’re sad isn’t even altruistic, because their happiness makes us feel happy, because we love them.  Aren’t we selfish gits?

So it may not be real selflessness, and it may be that altruism doesn’t exist at all, but being kind and generous without requiring anything in return is very important.  This is partly because we all have systems of morals, and the one thing that just about every religion in the world can agree on is that being kind to people is important, but also because it means that we can be proud of who we are and how we behave.

Let’s be honest: showing someone love, kindness, sympathy and support can be very demanding, and if the gesture is either refused or ignored we end up feeling foolish.  I don’t know about you, but one thing I hate is being made to feel like an idiot (largely because I can do it just fine by myself without any help from others, thank you).  But showing someone love does not make you an idiot: it makes them the idiot if they don’t appreciate it.  And why would you want gratitude from an idiot?

If you’re still feeling a bit under-appreciated, I could always make you some biscuits.  How’s that?

Have a spectacular Monday.

Commute Like A Champion

spicing-up-the-commute

Good morning, dear reader.  How are you?

If you are a London-based commuter my heart goes out to you on this, the first full day of the tube strikes.  What a nightmare.  During the last strike it took me three hours on loads of horrible buses to do a forty minute journey.  In hindsight, I wish I’d just hired a Segway and had a bit of fun getting to work.

Given that public transport is not huge amounts of fun at the best of times, I have decided to compile a list of ways to improve our lot.  After all, if we are obliged to spend a couple of hours a day on trains, buses and enchanted broomsticks, we may as well have some fun with it.  You’re a very busy person and your time is precious, so don’t waste those hours being bored or annoyed.  Use the time to your advantage.

  • That is Fascinating

Music is great, but if you’re listening to a podcast by these guys, for example, you will be learning about all kinds of fascinating things just by sitting on a train.  Granted, when I listened to their podcasts on the way to work I tended to have a perpetual “surprised and intrigued” face that looked a bit odd to other people, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of having really learned something before 9am.

  • Story Time

This one might just appeal to me and my friends because we’re all silly drama types who like making stuff up, but it’s basically a fun extension of people watching: make up stories in your head (ONLY in your head) about your fellow passengers.  This one is particularly fun when there is an old lady on board, because I like to think that it’s the queen in disguise monitoring her loyal subjects.  This is especially fun when you get to “Green Park – alight here for Buckingham Palace” and the old lady gets off the train.  What more proof do you need?

  • If You Had To

Again, this is almost definitely something that my friends and I are peculiarly drawn to, but it does pass the time.  You have to select three people from the individuals in your carriage/on your bus whom you would spend the rest of your life with: marriage, kids, mortgage, everything.  (Again, this is just in your head or, if playing with friends, in VERY quiet discussions.)  The joy of this is that at each stop your selection pool changes, and the joy of playing this with male friends is that they take it incredibly seriously.

  • Magic Tricks

If you commute for long enough you learn all sorts of transferable skills.  You can essentially teach yourself Houdini-esque body contortions by boarding a train bound for Marylebone from Aylesbury before 8am, and ladies tend to get very good at applying make-up in extreme turbulence.  Think of your commute as an opportunity to hone these magic tricks of yours, and be proud of yourself for mastering them.  I personally am at Level 6: Liquid Eye Liner on the DLR.

  • Make Someone Else’s Day

This is as fun for you as it is for the other person: smile at someone (BRIEFLY – this is England, for heaven’s sake), give up your seat, help an old lady with her granny shopper or a mum with her pushchair.  It  takes two seconds and you’re making someone else happy.  Plus, you know, you can legitimately feel pretty smug for at least half an hour.

  • This is My Stop

I have actually done this one on a lift before, but one day on a tube train (two seconds before my stop, obviously), I really want to open my handbag, peer into it and say “have you got enough air in there?”  I will then close my handbag, look at the other passengers suspiciously and draw my handbag closer to myself in a fit of protective fear before sweeping off the train with a haughty sniff.

Have an absolute cracker of a Tuesday.