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Your smugness hurt my feelings

Poor communication abounds these days for lots of reasons, but smugness is at the top of the list. It’s pervasive now, both in personal communications and in world diplomacy. The thing about smugness is that the speaker never detects a problem and fails to understand why the recipient is put off by the message. Ill-managed confidence is the problem.

I was sifting through old photos recently and saw one of an old girlfriend that I was completely captivated by. She was adorably cute and funny and stylish, and supremely confident. She liked to say provocative things to get attention, and she seemed to believe most of the things that she said. She talked about old boyfriends and how she took care of them in special ways. But, she said she never really committed to any of them. For example, she told one guy that they were only going to be dating for one year, and sure enough, after a year, she broke up with him. She said he didn’t believe her, and then she laughed as she told me that because she thought it was funny. At the time I did too.

One day we were getting ready to go out to dinner and, after she finished getting dressed, she turned and asked me if I thought she looked nice. I told her that, of course she did. She flipped her head back to the mirror as she smiled, remarking “you know I once broke up with someone because he stopped telling me I looked nice.” Then she started laughing, so I did too. But then, as I started to think more, I felt stung. Essentially the message was “tell me I look nice or I’ll break up with you like the other boyfriends that I wasn’t all that committed to.” We got along great and never fought, but she kept making these weird smug comments. I couldn’t really explain to her what she was doing and so eventually we broke up.

I guess the reason I thought of that story is that I really liked her a lot; she was someone who really cared about other people, but, for some reason, she often conveyed things in a smug way, which I’m sure she was completely unaware of. The most insidious aspect of smugness is that the person who conveys it is often acting in with the best possible intentions. That not only adds to the smugness, but it also makes it impossible for the smug person to detect.

The United States is a amazing country; we have often helped countries around the world at great sacrifice to our own people. We usually act with the best intentions. But sometimes we carry out those intentions in ways that other countries regard as arrogant or smug. It’s hard for us to see that for the reasons I just mentioned. And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me.’

My dad told me one time that he thought a couple of my blog posts were smug. Being a psychiatrist he knew how to say it in a very subtle way. Nevertheless I immediately dismissed the observation. Later, however, after thinking about it I could see he was right. I’ve been thinking about this problem of smugness and I think I need help to see myself doing what I shouldn’t be doing: so if any of you catch me making strident observations please let me know. In as nice a way as possible, of course. We ‘smug people’ tend to get our feelings hurt kind of easily.

Which is ironic isn’t it?

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  • Bill says:

    Here it is November 2008, and you wrote this in 2006.That’s the power of the Internet.Anyways, congratulations on even noticing your potential for smugness within yourself.Just the fact that you’ve begun to notice it, is a sign of maturation of the spirit.It takes someone who is willing to become self-aware and honest with himself to beginto even notice these tendencies.It is a personal journey for each and every one of us. Hence, the reason the majorityof people don’t notice it within themselves.Your ex-girlfriend’s “laugh” after she said something smug was, to me, a dead giveawayof some kind of feeling of guilt for saying the smug things she said.That’s the way it is with most people, some kind of small sign that tells them they could do better.However, again like most people, your ex just “laughed it off”…the equivalent of scratching an itch.Let’s hope that itch became unbearable for her…until she can’t just laugh it off anymore. Then she will actually have to face her immature and mean-spirited attitude.Was she really kind to people, if she could treat certain people (boyfriends) with such contempt?Or was her “kindness” a way of assuaging some kind of guilt for her not-too-well hidden anger?Who knows.In any case, she won’t keep her looks forever, and then let’s see who puts up with her smugness.The problem with society is that too many people seem to think that once they have some kind of academic achievement, this makes them “mature”. If people spent even half the time developing emotional maturity, what a better world we would be living in.

  • Rupert White says:

    Can’t say I’ve found the posts smug either. And your ex sounds repressed and passive aggressive, with a smudge of arrogance thrown in. Now, I think that mix of supreme confidence and implicit reflected importance (she wants you – which makes you special) can be very attractive. But at some point something has to give…

    Got to say, as an Englishman, I’m sorely tempted to just post: “What? Americans, smug? Surely not?” but a) I’m always worried that the irony won’t be noticed, and b) coming from the Little Island, it might sound just a little hypocrtical…

    Keep it up!

  • Ray says:

    I don’t know you personally, but I’ve always found your posts to be the opposite of smug.

  • Mojave Joe says:

    Although you have tried to justify this in a previous post (or posts?), I still can’t understand this penchant for self-revelation.

  • Stanley Feldman says:

    I have never considered any of your observations to be “strident.” Of course, I have only been reading for 4 or 5 years so maybe I will see that in the future. Don’t give it another thought!

    Concerning the old girlfriend, she seems like the other end of the spectrum from the Heather Graham charcter in Swingers. We (guys) like her simply because she was kind (even though she was really pretty). Flawed logic? So what?

  • hotoynoodle says:

    “The United States is a amazing country; we have often helped countries around the world at great sacrifice to our own people. We usually act with the best intentions.”

    i appreciate your thoughts on the smugness of individuals, but i think your analogy here is a bit flawed. the united states government has not acted out of altruism in a very long time, and its motivations have been nothing but base and selfish… national sovereignty of korea, vietnam, nicaragua, afghanistan, iraq… hello? anyone?

  • Marco says:

    Very well put. I think we all have that potential smugness in that Western ego of ours. The point that you bring up about one being unconsciously smug and arrogant is what makes it worse. We sometimes become annoyed when we see that in other people, because we aren’t aware of it within our personality. We’re touchy about our feelings because it’s thetender underbelly of the smug-arrogant face. You bring up ananother imporatnt point in that this personal smugness translates intoa national identity trait. That’s why most of the planet hates thiscountry’s foreign policy disasters.

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