I was talking to a man last week and all the time we were talking (or he was talking – it was largely a speaker-listener relationship), he kept impressing on me…well, impressing on me his own importance. I was told about a number of high-powered projects he had been involved in, about other projects he is currently involved in, about a number of important people he knows. No, not knows – is close to. Meets at their clubs. Has to his place for dinner. It got to the point where I was reluctant to mention an event or individual of any standing because I knew that somehow, he’d find a way of explaining how deeply involved he himself was with that event and/or how the individual of standing was actually his best mate.
What is it that prompts people to talk in this I-was-speaking-to-Salman-Rushdie-the other-day’ way? I put this question to three friends of mine last night (you wouldn’t be interested in them, they’re of no standing worth mentioning) and two of them agreed that such people are pompous dick-heads who deserve to have their backsides kicked regularly to bring them down to earth. That’s a tempting suggestion but maybe a bit unfair. My guess is that it’s a case of insecurity. People like my man last week have a subconscious fear that if they present just themselves to the world, without frills so to say, that won’t be enough, the world will be dismissive or laugh at them.
It’s the same urge that drives people to use titles. The most obvious example is Catholic priests who can’t speak of fellow priests or even themselves without the title ‘Father’: ‘That man there is Father Mickey Murphy and I’m Father Joe Soap”. The medical profession is famous for it – “This is Dr Wilson” – and likewise the academic world: ‘I’d like you to meet Professor Jones”. The person him or herself won’t be enough, there’s a need to buttress with titles.
Similarly with my man last week. The unfortunate individual feels he must impress on the world how elevated is his place in it, because if he doesn’t people will dismiss him as a mediocrity or even a nobody.They might even snigger at him. So like the Wizard of Oz he constructs his facade of connections and enterprises. No, it’s not ass-kicking the poor man needs. It’s tummy-rubbing, preferably from a plump motherly figure, who’ll tell him he’s a grand little man, and if he could just believe in himself enough to take the leap, it’s amazing how people will like and respect him.
Alternatively, of course, he could stay exactly the way he is and go on emphasising the important connections and the mighty projects he’s involved with. That was the suggestion of my third friend when we talked about it last night. “You think he should go on talking about his important friends and his major project-involvement? You want him to go on boasting? For God’s sake why?” “Because I find him hilarious” my third friend replied. “And God knows we all need a good laugh”.