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How do you know if you're being pretentious?

self knowledge reflection check in

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17 replies to this topic

#1
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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Let's say that someone is talking as if they know something that they really shouldn't be so certain about, or doing the false humility bit, or that a person is expressing some kind of emotional depth that they probably don't really have, and that's what being pretentious means.

 

How does a person regulate that in themselves?

 

A person isn't going to say to themselves: "hey, I'm going to act like I know a lot more than I really do" (or if they do then they've got bigger problems, lol) so, considering that, how could they take any kind of preventative measures? It's got to be unconscious, right?

 

When people are being pretentious, it's not like the people around them are going to be all that willing to say: "hey man, I think you may need to express just a little more humility about that" so it's not often that a person who's being pretentious gets that reflected back to them. And if they do, it's usually very hard to accept.

 

Occasionally (though it seems very rare) there is a person who comes off as a little pretentious and it turns out that they have some real wisdom there, and while although they might need to work on their presentation, they are ultimately right about what they are saying.

 

So I guess what I'm saying is that it's not always obvious, so it can be difficult to draw that distinction, expecially from the inside.

 

It would be a shame if a person were then making themselves out to be pretentious when they weren't or they became paranoid about it, because they couldn't make that distinction for themselves.

 

I've heard it said that pretentiousness is an over-compensation for insecurity, but over compensated as compared to what? Someone who never expresses their opinions?

 

People who are just over the top pretentious are probably beyond helping anyway, but I just mean the more subtle kinds of pretentiousness. The kind that most (all?) people have to some degree.

 

I'd love to hear if someone has faced their own capacity for pretentiousness and how they work with it.

 

Is this problem really as hard as it seems or am I missing something important? lol!


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)


#2
powersquash

powersquash
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I am by no means an expert. My view on pretentiousness is it is the outreaching of somebody who is grabbing all the attention they can get so that people will pay them attention. Nobody likes a know-it-all but they at least remember them.
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#3
MooMoo

MooMoo
  • 78 posts

Let's say there is a spectrum. On the one end there is pretentiousness or givng the false bravado that you are somewhat better than you are, and on the other end is false modesty. The latter would be masking your contributions or capabilities to a fault where you would be actively lying to downplay yourself. The motivations might be shyness. Which doesn't hurt anyone else, but can be self-destructive on a small scale and also that shyness probably (not always) doesn't come from a healthy place.

From that it is the key purpose of the individual seeking to reach their optimization that they find the balance between these two forces of social interaction. I think there are some tools to make this happen. Tools like humility. This would be giving credit to those that helped one acheive something by acknowledging those that had a positive impact on the path to success. Another one is to be real with things and give credit where it's do because that's the antithesis to pretentiousness as well as false modesty.


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#5
xelent

xelent

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There's no absolutes in life I have learned.

So I take it, that you never wrote this comment.


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#7
Ruben Z

Ruben Z

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Great topic, Kevin.
 
I think fear of being pretentious is a type of self-attack. A pretty nasty one too, since it prevents people from reaching out to the world in a spontaneous manner. 
The interactions that are not taking place could result in more self-knowledge, personal strength, capabilities of logical thought, debating skill, great feedback etc.
And for sure, from the inside, facing pretentiousness is really hard. Here's my current take on it, let me know what you think: 
 
If you worry about being pretentious, then to the degree that you are worrying, most likely you are not. 
At least not about the subject matter itself.
 
Talking for myself, I think it's certain that I will always keep expecting the "you are being pretentious" - attack to come along from some angle when I talk of what is important to me. It probably influences my output, no matter how much I want to erase all traces of it.
And I really want that, because it's like blood in the water. ( "Ahah, he's afraid of being pretentious, so let's just go and make him self-attack instead of coming up with anything tangible"). Without being absolutely sure of who I'm dealing with, all I can do is pretend not to be dealing with a bunch of sharks who might sniff me out. Which is pretence, a secondary kind of pretentiousness, since it is not related to any specific topic or argument. It is about the interaction itself.
I'm getting confused while writing this down. That must be the pretentiousness kicking in again :)

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#8
Mishelle

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Kevin you do come up with the great topics!  This has got me thinking.  I'd like to add something from my experience in case it resonates with anyone.  Growing up I was called pretentious at school and even sometimes at home.  That was the suburban midwest in the 80s, kids liked sports and TV and if they read at all it was mysteries or romances.  My interests were classic literature, foreign languages, ballet, travel--I was never trying to impress anyone, these were my natural interests and talents.  Even my mother said I was just trying to impress people.  Impress who?  That impressed exactly no one where I lived, it was considered pretentious!

So what I'm trying to say is I think oftentimes pretentiousness is in the eye of the beholder.


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"...when the struggle seems to be drifting definitely towards a world social democracy, there may still be very great delays and disappointments before it becomes an efficient and beneficent world system. Countless people... will hate the new world order... and will die protesting against it. When we attempt to evaluate its promise, we have to bear in mind the distress of a generation or so of malcontents, many of them quite gallant and graceful-looking people."
- H. G. Wells,The New World Order

 

"When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing; when you see that money is flowing to those who deal not in goods, but in favors; when you see that men get rich more easily by graft than by work, and your laws no longer protect you against them, but protect them against you… you may know that your society is doomed."
–Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged


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#10
LovePrevails

LovePrevails

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self-correct in hindsight


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#11
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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Thanks all for the responses!

 

I think fear of being pretentious is a type of self-attack. A pretty nasty one too, since it prevents people from reaching out to the world in a spontaneous manner. 

The interactions that are not taking place could result in more self-knowledge, personal strength, capabilities of logical thought, debating skill, great feedback etc.
And for sure, from the inside, facing pretentiousness is really hard. Here's my current take on it, let me know what you think: 
 
If you worry about being pretentious, then to the degree that you are worrying, most likely you are not. 
At least not about the subject matter itself.
 
Talking for myself, I think it's certain that I will always keep expecting the "you are being pretentious" - attack to come along from some angle when I talk of what is important to me. It probably influences my output, no matter how much I want to erase all traces of it.
And I really want that, because it's like blood in the water. ( "Ahah, he's afraid of being pretentious, so let's just go and make him self-attack instead of coming up with anything tangible"). Without being absolutely sure of who I'm dealing with, all I can do is pretend not to be dealing with a bunch of sharks who might sniff me out. Which is pretence, a secondary kind of pretentiousness, since it is not related to any specific topic or argument. It is about the interaction itself.
I'm getting confused while writing this down. That must be the pretentiousness kicking in again :)

Oh my god! It's like you read my mind, lol. I totally relate :)

 

I couldn't tell if "And I really want that, because it's like blood in the water" means you do or don't want the potential for self attack in that way. I would ideally not have that at all anymore because (like you said) it (seems to) prevent me from reaching out in spontaneous ways.

 

 

I'd like to add something from my experience in case it resonates with anyone.  Growing up I was called pretentious at school and even sometimes at home.  That was the suburban midwest in the 80s, kids liked sports and TV and if they read at all it was mysteries or romances.  My interests were classic literature, foreign languages, ballet, travel--I was never trying to impress anyone, these were my natural interests and talents.  Even my mother said I was just trying to impress people.  Impress who?  That impressed exactly no one where I lived, it was considered pretentious!

So what I'm trying to say is I think oftentimes pretentiousness is in the eye of the beholder.

I can definitely relate to that. My interests were astronomy and biology and I wanted to share the things I was learning about them. Not to be like "look how smart I am" but because I found it fascinating and enjoyable. And I was called pretentious for it or it was implied in some way, some vague kind of "oh there Kevin goes on with his interests again" kind of look or eye rolling. Or the condescending way people sometimes "listen" to children: "yea, that's what you said for ya".


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)


#12
Pepin

Pepin

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I can come across as "talking down" and pretentious, though as a close friend and I are pretty certain that this is a misunderstanding of my personality. Not that I am OCD, but I am pretty compelled to explain anything in a very simplistic and logical manner and to cover all of my bases, and some of the things I point out are obvious. The catch 22 is that most people won't make the connection if it isn't pointed out just because it tends to be on top of a lot of information, and by pointing it out they feel like I think they couldn't have figured it out.

 

The pretentiousness confuses me a little more. To a large degree, I'd argue it is self-confidence in my knowledge of the subject as I tend to be an amateur expert on a lot subjects due to an excess time researching and learning and a great memory. Anyone who gets to know me will say that I'm not pretentious at all.

 

Though, I'm also open up to the possibility that some effects of my early childhood are showing, particularly this feeling of being special and better than everyone else. I started to get this around 5th grade, where I felt like I was better than everyone else and that only I could do things. I didn't at all believe it as I realized that empirically it wasn't the case, and so I spent the next five years reminding myself it wasn't true whenever the feeling popped up. It is possible that this is showing up in the present, but in most circumstances I don't think it is.


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#13
Yeravos

Yeravos

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A very interesting topic Kevin!

 

I have felt lately from time to time that I might come across as pretentious. It is usually in subjects I have a passion for (like the evil of the state for instance and that violence against children is extremely vile), and many times, I feel that I lose myself in my passion and just preach to people.


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#14
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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It's funny what I've been seeing in myself reading your responses. When I see this same concern about whether or not you come off as being pretentious, I feel an urge to say "fuck that! Not if this is at the cost of not expressing your thoughts and feelings!" (sorry for the double negative). It seems to me like an injustice.

 

There is this quote by Stef that I think is really interesting that goes something like: "crazy people have no problem looking crazy to sane people, but sane people are very concerned with appearing crazy to crazy people". (If someone knows the podcast that's from I'd be eternally grateful :) ).

 

I re-listened to 70 – How to control a human soul (my new favorite podcast) a few times yesterday and I am starting to think that this self doubt is not really serving me. At least not when I make the implication out to be that I'm some kind of blowhard or know-it-all or egotistical or something. None of those things means that I'm wrong, and even if I were wrong, so what? What am I going to get thrown out to be eaten by the wolves?

 

I think it's true of me, and I'm sure of all of you that you are happy to be corrected, so what's the big deal about making mistakes every once in a while?

 

The people who should be concerned about being pretentious aren't going to be, I don't think, so I wonder if really it's just another situation like how Stef says that ethics was invented by evil people to control good people. It's like how in 421 – Humiliation Stef argues that humiliation is a universal rule that applies only to you.

 

So I was an attention starved child who liked to talk about things I didn't understand fully and I was accused by older siblings as being pretentious when they were full of shit themselves. And doesn't that seem to be how it always is? That it's usually someone being completely hypocritical that accuses other people of being pretentious? Like post modern philosophy students talking down analytic philosophy.

 

That kind of shit seems to create these backward priorities in my head like "don't appear pretentious" and "don't offend people", rather than things like "is what I'm saying true?" and "am I being honest right now?"

 

And I have this weird feeling like if I say something like "I understand psychology, economics and philosophy better than most people on the planet" that some kind of hammer is going to come down on me like: "you can't say that!"

 

Weird right?


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)


#15
cynicist

cynicist

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Great topic, personally I have had a tendency to pretend knowledge that I wasn't certain of in the past (due to issues around self-worth stemming from family history) and the way I managed to deal with it is that I realized having to try and back up claims when I was questioned by people was really hard. (when I didn't know for certain I mean, didn't have logic or evidence on my side) Usually I got away with it anyway due to skill in other areas (language, technical aptitude, etc) but I always felt bad about it afterwards and it was stressful so my old strategy was to just try and forget about it. Once I realized how much energy I spent on it (and why I was doing it) I just decided it wasn't worth it anymore. I think a key part of solving the problem is that when someone points out a flaw in your reasoning or brings up an idea you didn't think of previously, stop and consider it before responding. If you find yourself trying to rush forward it is usually because you would rather be right than accurate. Now that I don't feel like I have to be right all the time I'm more comfortable with backpedaling if I make too broad a statement, though I'm still careful not to do that in the first place. (I also distinguish my opinions more clearly now)

 

If you are open to correction then you are the opposite of pretentious. I think the concern you have comes from mistaking ignorance for pretension. If you say something that happens to be out of your depth and you realize that once someone points out your error, then you were merely ignorant. (It can take knowledge to be aware of your own ignorance) If you persist in your argument after you realize you are incorrect, then you are pretentious. (I think this can be unconcious; you may find yourself becoming flustered or really upset and not know why, or you can have this feeling that you are missing something in your argument but continue regardless)

 

I also think the word is tainted by people who use it to attack you, like you experienced with your siblings. If you can recognize that they aren't addressing your arguments it is easy to avoid self attacking. If you are truly being pretentious they need a reason to suggest that.

 

 

 

And I have this weird feeling like if I say something like "I understand psychology, economics and philosophy better than most people on the planet" that some kind of hammer is going to come down on me like: "you can't say that!"

 

Weird right?

 

 

I don't think that is weird. It's likely true but you can't prove it so I would hesitate to say something like that myself. And what would be the value in a statement like that anyway? Talk is cheap and too many people make claims about knowledge that they don't have, and you know that yourself, which I think is the reason you would feel uncomfortable saying it. To me it makes more sense to demonstrate your knowledge through sound arguments or action, then there is no need for the claim. Now that I'm older I just can't take anyone who relies on job titles or things of that nature seriously.


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#16
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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I don't think that is weird. It's likely true but you can't prove it so I would hesitate to say something like that myself. And what would be the value in a statement like that anyway? Talk is cheap and too many people make claims about knowledge that they don't have, and you know that yourself, which I think is the reason you would feel uncomfortable saying it. To me it makes more sense to demonstrate your knowledge through sound arguments or action, then there is no need for the claim. Now that I'm older I just can't take anyone who relies on job titles or things of that nature seriously.

Totally makes sense. Thank you! Great response :)


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)


#17
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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  • 1405 posts

I think that there's also a good distinction between making the goal be the communication of new ideas versus being a smart guy or girl, as described in the below video:

 

 

Making it about the pursuit of truth and clarity as much as possible rather than who said what that true thing is.

 

This video on public speaking, perfectionism and procrastination is something I think that can apply to a whole lot of the kind of communication that happens either on the boards or with people in our lives that we are arguing the case for freedom with.


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)


#18
Kevin Beal

Kevin Beal

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*add

 

And as far as the guilt goes:

 


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"There is no law, no compulsion, no law of physics or man that is preventing you from living the life that you want" - Stef (The Greatest Gift in the Entire Universe)






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