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Humblebrags and Butapologies

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'Humblebrag' alternative for Obama, Iran, David Cameron and Christians.

The 'humblebrag' was a concept to which many were introduced by an amusing article in last week's Independent. Primarily used in a social media context like Twitter or Facebook, it's a label applied to a boast cloaked in false humility or any supposedly innocuous statement intended to make the poster look good. So, when a celebrity tweets about how lame limousines are but also happens to mention that he is in one at two o'clock in the morning, or an author describes his embarrassment at meeting someone on the train reading his book, a verdict of humblebrag is delivered and the best examples are collected and disseminated.

You must have come across it in every day life: 'Shopping for clothes is such a drag. Everything looks baggy on me.' Or: 'I'm so boring. I spend all my time feeding the homeless and reading the Bible to blind children.' And hey, at least they're not just bragging. While one may laugh at the thinly-veiled attempts to hide their pride and the tenuous reasons for bringing up their latest triumphs, at least the humblebraggards are self-conscious about their self-aggrandisement.

Politicians are slightly less vulnerable to the accusation of humblebraggary than some celebs, possibly because there is so little about them that is humble. As party conference season continues and the government trot out headline-bait like last week's announcement that bin collections could be weekly again, you'd have to look hard to find a politician couching their achievements or plans in self-deprecating language. Even Labour's admissions of past shortcomings have been more along the lines of job-interview classics like: 'My greatest weaknesses are that I work too hard and believe in this company too much,' than a confession in any Christian sense.

Perhaps we need a new label for the purposes of satire and honesty. If humblebrags start becoming ironically trendy, perhaps so can the 'butapology'. You know: officially an apology, but really just an opportunity to reveal true motives, knowing that it's just plain impolite to get angry with someone for apologising. With butapology, the US Congress could last week have said sorry to the Palestinian people for collectively punishing them for trying to seek a seat at the world table by withdrawing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid: 'Sorry for the effect this will have on ordinary Palestinians, but we are too afraid of the Israel lobby to truly support democracy or dialogue and to a large number of Americans, Israeli lives are just worth more than Palestinian lives.' Hell, they could have brought that one out during the Gaza conflict and every time Israel builds an illegal settlement and has their funding in no way cut.

Where humblebrag reveals facts that are useless and self-serving, butapology reveals true motives and reasons. David Cameron, instead of saying 'We're all in this together,' could say 'I am really sorry that those who really need public services are going to suffer because of cuts, but it's not personal, it's ideological: we'd have found another excuse had the economy been doing fine. Just watch what happens when it improves.' If anyone gets irate, the politician in question can simply shelter under the fact that the record will show he apologised.

Think of the possibilities! At last, Iran can apologise for the way it treats its citizens: 'Sorry for brutally suppressing the dreams of deeper democracy that we've encouraged in you by our relative sophistication in other ways, but we fundamentally don't trust you not to do what the Russians did and trade our independence for a can of Coke and a pair of Nikes.' President Obama could say: 'Sorry for killing one of our own citizens without trial or due process last week, but when we say we believe in free speech and human rights, we really don't mean that to apply to people outside of certain boundaries of ideology.'

Think of how much simpler life would be with that kind of clarity? Christians could say: 'Sorry for seeming obsessed with in-fighting, but we're quite an insecure bunch and a lot of us really need a theology that tells us we're right and others are wrong to prop up our self-image.'

But, it'll probably not catch on. Sorry.


This piece first appeared in The Baptist Times.

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