We hear the old cliché: Walk quietly and carry a big stick. But what does it really mean? It has always been about modesty and self-effacement when dealing and promoting one’s own accomplishments and activities. As I currently understand it, the reverse of this humility is called “swag”, a short hand version of ‘swagger’. Because I am an old guy, meaning I have been around to observe firsthand this monumental switch from modesty to braggadocio, I now thump my chest and proclaim that I am the world’s greatest expert on the subject.
It started with Muhammad Ali who proclaimed himself the “greatest” in the mid-sixties. To summarize the impact of his claim on others, try to think back to the last time you saw a sporting event on TV in which the fans of the winning team did not hold an index finger in the air toward TV cameras proclaiming their team “number one”. Or how about the guys on the bench when the camera pans that area at the close of any game, no matter how big or small, how important or insignificant? Society is now taking its next step along this evolutionary pathway in the form of idiots like Joe “you’re a liar” Wilson and K. West who grabbed the microphone away from Taylor Swift during the MTV awards this week to proclaim his disagreement with her award. It seems like every politician who has a single thought that occurs to him or her needs to bring it to our attention in a press conference, not to mention the TV crowd and the media in and of itself. Sarah Palin is the prototype in two of these genres having been a sportscaster before she became a politician. I always get a kick out of the local TV station in the Traverse City, Michigan area which constantly claims to have the number one weather reporting team (which consists of three people who read weather forecasts prepared by the National Weather Service) in the area. By my count it is the only local channel in the area, so isn’t it number one by default? There is no end to this as reflected in the bumper stickers which boldly proclaim that the driver has an honor student in the second grade at the local grade school.
This bombast has repercussions. The citizens of our nation are struggling mightily right now with a president who insists on talking to us like adults. Instead, his modesty and gift of understatement is interpreted as weakness and high-browed. The further to the extremes, the left and the right, the less the appreciation for the nuances of the man who is derided as a pointy-headed intellectual. Some of the signs seen on TV from the weekend’s march on Washington equated Obama’s speech making ability with Hitler’s. This derision is the direct off-shoot of the “I’m number one” mentality.
As for me, I’m trained in the old school. I have actually done a lot of things of which I am proud. From time to time I am tempted to write about the things I have done and am currently doing because I want my grandkids to know about me. I had all A’s in grade school once, well before bumper stickers. No one said anything to me about it. It was expected that a kid would try to do his best, and I did. I am still trying to do my best. ‘Nuff said.