Pretentious people – why do we smile at them?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Being pretentious can be due to seeking social acceptance, status or admiration. But it hinders authentic spiritual living. pretentiousDon’t you just smile when you see someone with a ludicrous beard, use unnecessarily long words, speak with a very posh accent or wear very uncomfortable way-out clothes trying to look trendy? Name-dropping is an another example of acting in a pretentious manner. It’s like saying “I’m important: look at the eminent people I know,” when all the name-dropper has done is bump into them somewhere.

But, sometimes, when you spot people putting on a false show, you have to keep your smile to yourself, for they may not agree they are acting in a stuck-up way: may not realise they are behaving as if they deserve more merit than they actually do.

You may remember the story of the Emperor’s invisible clothes. A vain ruler, who cares about nothing except looking good, hires two swindlers who promise him the best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is hopelessly stupid. The Emperor and everyone else pretends that they can see the clothes, not wanting to appear stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all.

Agreeing about when someone is being pretentious can be difficult without knowing the person. Even then there is usually an alternative reasonable explanation. After all, the whole point of pretending to be something one isn’t, is about misleading others and often this means also misleading oneself.

“To say you want to be a director is to risk sounding obnoxious, pretentious, arrogant, and I think women are more fearful of sounding that way than men are.” (Nicole Holofcener)

Why do we fear sounding pretentious and smile at people who do?

Wanting to get socially accepted by being pretentious

Teenagers are well known to be prone to pretentious behaviour. Perhaps it is their way of getting noticed, finding social acceptance and thus to avoid being ignored? For example a so-called poseur (or poser) is a pejorative term often used by those in the goth, skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to describe an individual who copies the clothes, speech, and mannerisms of such a subculture, who is thought not to share or understand its values and attitudes.

Wanting social status by being pretentious

What we can accept about youth, we might feel more critical of in older people who for example try to enhance their own status by adopting the fashion and tastes of a social elite: pretending to be something one is not. We smile when we see snobbish servants of the landed gentry portrayed in television sitcoms as ‘putting on airs’ in this way.

Another way of aping those of high status is thought to be through conspicuous consumption – buying luxury goods such as expensive clothes, jewelry, cars. The comical figure of Mrs Bott in the William Brown stories comes to mind. In the end it is sad that one might feel there is something to prove about oneself to avoid being looked down on.

Wanting to appear better than others by being pretentious

Perhaps we can more easily forgive those who indulge in what we see as pretentious behaviour because they want to be noticed, or socially accepted: or even if they do so because they mistakenly believe their fragile self-esteem can be enhanced through increased social status. After all we all try to manage the social impression we make on others – like at a first date, party or job interview to mention just a few examples.

However, others try to put on a false show in many situations to gain unmerited admiration. When they get away with it they will be popular and attract a following. They run the risk – if seen through for what they actually are – of coming across as egotistical, big-headed and shallow. Taken to extreme, wanting admiration can amount to seeking glory at the expense of others. Many brutal dictators are said to have lived in a fantasy where they are the heroes. Was glory-seeking not the motivation of Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon?

Pretentious behaviour and spiritual development

According to many spiritual theories, the way to grow and mature is to learn how to be authentic in what one says and does. This means being more aware of your feelings and desires, strengths and weaknesses. In addition to being more honest with yourself, it also involves being honest about yourself with others. This can be quite a challenge because one can no longer pretend to be something one is not. Being a genuine person one acts in accord with what one truly values and wants rather than merely to impress others for the sake of your own ego.

Emanuel Swedenborg’s visionary experiences of a higher heavenly realm is filled with angelic people who do not think or speak from self-interest yet experience the sublime feelings of content, joy and peace.   The way such individuals vary is seen in terms of the quality of their useful functions rather than any sense of social class, stigma, or fame carried over from the world.  No concern about status there or worry how others may admire one. Just an interest in allowing the divine life to flow through one’s inner being.

For Swedenborg an angelic attitude is to have an authentic charitable heart.

“People with whom no charity is present ..if they say anything good it is for the sake of themselves or of one with whom they seek to curry favour under an outward show of friendship. But people in whom charity is present think nothing else than good of the neighbour and speak nothing but good, and this not for their own sake or that of him with whom they seek to curry favour, but from the Lord thus at work within charity” (AC 1088)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy

Author Heart, Head & Hands (

Posted on17th April 2015CategoriesLatest post, Other aspects of meaningTags, , , , , , ,,  Leave a comment

Snob – What’s so bad about being one?

I’m afraid I am a bit of a snob. My wife pointed out to me that I put on airs in the way I give my postal address. I live in England on the border of beautiful countryside and industrial conurbation. I snootily choose to use the shire county rather than the metropolitan county as my address. Although the former is correct for where I live, using the latter would be much more sensible. The nearest postal sorting office is in within the neighbouring town which is in the conurbation just over the county boundary. That is where all my post goes.

Mind you, when it comes to social pretence, I am not in the same league as say some characters in the novel Pride and Prejudice. I’m thinking of Rev.William Collins who admires the wealth and social position of his patron. This woman is the condescending and overbearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  His snobbishness is identification with those who are his ‘social betters’.

Also comes to mind is Miss Caroline Bingley, a “fine women, with an air of decided fashion”. This social snob belittles the society living in the small town of Meryton near where the novel is mainly set.

So what’s so bad about being a snob? Where’s the harm in admiring one’s betters and looking down on one’s inferiors?

The snob values things of the world

snobThe snob may want to feel self-important by identifying with those who the world regards as worthy of esteem. One example are those with the social status of wealth.

The property snob takes an interest in the social status of the area in which he or she lives. This concern is greater than with the size, attractiveness or other qualities of the house.

 “The love of the world, … consists …in setting the heart on riches, and suffering one’s self to be withdrawn and led away by the world from spiritual love, which is love towards the neighbour.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

The snob wants to feel superior

However, the main problem, to my mind, with being any sort of snob, is identifying oneself with those seen as a cut above others in terms of one’s abilities and experiences. A condescending and disdainful manner shows this egotism. The fashion snob looks down on inferior tastes in clothes, home design, music or whatever. The film snob is likely to dismiss any films made in the English language by the main film studios. He or she will disdain most newspaper film review sections as being insufficiently ‘au fait’ with the ‘real issues’ of cinema. The intellectual snob looks down with a superior attitude on those with uneducated views and opinions.

Likewise, the spiritual snob looks down on those with teachers who know less.

“I have seen white-robed teachers actually turn up their noses at students who ask how to take their yoga practice into their finances, because they were tired of money stress.” (Sadie Nardini, spiritual writer)

Being a religious snob

I suppose it’s only natural that when we discover some wonderful thing, we then assume that others should believe it too. If only everybody would read the books I read, use the terminology I use, or adopt the practices I follow, then their lives would be so much better!

The religious snob thinks their particular faith is right and looks down on all other beliefs as mediocre. As if just one person could contain the wisdom of the universe! I would suggest that the snobbish mistake is to assume no other ways of thinking have anything valuable to offer. Can it really be true that only one’s own beliefs are worth listening to?

“We’re all unique, we all have different paths. And what works for one, may not work for another” (Trisha Savoia, spiritual writer)

If you are a person of strong conviction, it rarely works these days to tell people what to think and believe. Why not instead offer suggestions about what one has found good and true for their possible consideration.

The opposite of the snob

I would say it is possible to feel good about oneself without being a snob. In place of identifying with money, social status, power, or reputation, cannot one look to deeper values and higher principles to give a sense of direction and identity?

By feeling above others, I would suggest the snob is looking down on them through the prism of his or her own conceit. Cannot one instead accept people whatever their social background and abilities in their own right?

How to stop being a snob

I believe wanting self-importance doesn’t go with a humble attitude necessary for spirituality. How can you who are a finite being compare with the infinite Source of everything? How about learning from others about this higher reality that is different from your own understanding?

This change would mean giving up an attachment to what belongs to self and the resulting feeling of superiority.

And when we do this, I happen to believe that our higher consciousness becomes active. I have found it is the deeper self that experiences spontaneous illumination during periods of reflection, prayer or meditation. I would say that the experience of this deeper side is a sense of freedom, of expansion, of communication with others and with what is truly real.

It’s like a mystical experience when the person feels at one with all of nature. Is this not when we can feel good about what is present deep within our human soul? The Divine reality that is beyond oneself?

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on11th January 2017CategoriesHealing attitudes, Latest post, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , ,s