Social Question

KeithWilson's avatar

Is a pretentious attitude ever justified?

Asked by KeithWilson (833points) September 3rd, 2010

If you are good at something, is it pretentious to state that fact bluntly if the opportunity casually arises?

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23 Answers

tiny_dancer's avatar

I think there is a fine line between self confidence and arrogance…

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

If you don’t rub it in, yeah, it’s fine.

iamthemob's avatar

That really depends on what you mean by being pretentious. Your example fits lots of times where it would be both acceptable to state your skills, and even unacceptable were you to be silent. (I’m having a heart attack – I hope someone says bluntly “I’m a doctor” and then shows off in front of everyone by saving my butt).

But that’s not really pretentious – pretentious entails an assumption of superiority regarding yourself. That’s pretty much always lame.

Frenchfry's avatar

At times it is good to brag, but don’t overdo it.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Just be prepared that there may be someone present who’s more talented or equally credentialed. The expression “pride goeth before a fall” came about for a reason. People love humiliating a braggart.

Scooby's avatar

Over confidence & arrogance are mans greatest downfall. Women too, especially in the kitchen! :-/ Lol….....

BoBo1946's avatar

There is a time and place for everything. Over the years, in certain situation, found it necessary to compliment myself. It isn’t something you do everyday, but there are occasions. The secret to know when to do it.

Cruiser's avatar

No…not at all and either is a pie in the face if they get carried away tooting their own horn!

Austinlad's avatar

I don’t need to act pretentious. I know everything.

zophu's avatar

It’s never a good thing to be truly pretentious, but within society there are many cases where pretension is perceived where it isn’t actually there. A student that questions the teacher’s words out of misunderstanding with a genuine willingness to learn might be scorned. A member of a lower caste believing themselves to be equals with a member of a higher caste is considered pretentious.

I grew up in Mississippi and saw (and experienced) many cases of people being considered pretentious simply because they showed a sense of self-determination. I once saw a little girl around 4-years-old get lazily slapped on the arm by her grandmother because she asked why the sun moved in the sky and that was apparently an unacceptably meaningful question. That is an exceptionally absurd example of the cultural abuse I saw but it wasn’t isolated.

It’s an intrinsic part of learning, confident ignorance. If one feels they’re good at something, no problem in acting like it as long as the intentions are sound, and as long as one tries to respect the abilities of others as they do their own. Even if this one turns out to be wrong about something, even in a destructive way, it wont be because they were being truly pretentious. I wish more people understood that. We could all waste less energy being fearful of shame and over-criticism when mistakes are made, and actual growth would be more sustainable. It’s self perpetuating: the shamed shame others as they were shamed. Each generation concedes to the previous less and less as time goes by, but the tendency for shaming the younger questioning minds is still there and we may be “progressing” but we still forsake our innate innocence with systematic efficiency.

With the current amount of information and the seemingly endless exponential growth of that information, there’s no room for prejudice towards ignorance. It annoys me when I hear a teacher say they “learn things from their students all the time” as if it’s an unexpected thing. Everyone is infinitely ignorant, and it is more pretentious to believe that there is but a few ways to comprehend even basic universal concepts than it is to resist those that would have you comprehend in their way.

So, my main point is, appearing pretentious is much, much more common than actually being pretentious. And the negativity that is associated with even true pretentiousness is generally exaggerated. It does more harm to the individual who is pretentious than to the people around that individual even when he or she is not attacked for it; because true pretentiousness is essentially a person’s disrespect of their own abilities in relation to other people’s abilities and so hinders them from being as potent as they could be.

I think the term can even be used to describe someone who believes themselves to be more inferior than they actually are in relation to other people. Which refers me back to the self-perpetuating factor. If one is pretentiously believing themselves to be inferior, people are generally inclined to attack. Which usually only makes the pretension stronger, supported by delusion. This is probably something I should think about in my personal case, and probably makes this post more of an example than an explanation—maybe both.

aprilsimnel's avatar

pre·ten·tious /priˈtenCHəs/
Adjective: Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

Real pretentiousness is never justified. Mainly because it makes you look like an idiot. But many people use this word when they are actually just jealous of someone who does have the desired quality or ability that they lack and, in those cases, need to knock it off because they’re using it wrongly.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m in the pretentiousness is never justified camp. It’s disrespectful and places distance between you are other people. In fact, if I think someone is being pretentious, I pretty much take them off the books instantly. No one, in my opinion, is better than anyone else, no matter how much education or skill or votes or money they might have. Anyone who acts as if they are better, no matter the reason, is not someone I want to waste my time with. It’s just too much bother and annoyance and for what?

BoBo1946's avatar

@aprilsimnel here is deal my friend. One year, when i was working (1994), we had an ice storm in our area. We worked everyday for 2 months to take care of our customers. I mean everyday. At the end of the year, my boss, gave me an expected raise. I was mad as “cat between two dogs!” I went in his office and told him “how the cow ate the corn!” And, reminded him how important I was and all my other co-workers were to this company. Now, bragging on myself in that situation, is justified in mind. Other than that, totally agree with you.

Btw, did not work near as hard the next year, and got an above expected raise. He knew i was right that day. Also, during that next year, he would come to my desk weekly and ask me is there anything i can do to help. He was feeling guilty.

aprilsimnel's avatar

But that’s not what pretentious means, @BoBo1946! What you were doing was presenting your justified case for a raise. It’s not bragging if it’s true. And bragging is not being pretentious. Bragging is lording yourself over and belittling others because you do have a skill or quality they don’t have. And that’s just rude.

Being pretentious means means more, like, if I were to show up at a party full of Mayflower descendants, swanning about and talking about my non-existent descent from King Edward II. You know. Something like that.

iamthemob's avatar


Solid answer I think – I don’t know if I agree that there’s no room for prejudice about ignorance. Being ignorant about a particular thing is different than being ignorant about an entire area of thought. Since information is so readily available…it cuts both ways.

I think prejudice about some basics is warranted. But it’s something that should be kept inside…calling someone ignorant is kind of the same as calling them pretentious – if you want to see change, you’re probably going to see a defensive stance more often.

YARNLADY's avatar

No, using the definition above, actually being pretentious is not acceptable, but from what I see the word is usually used by a person to put down other people they don’t like.

zophu's avatar

@iamthemob I meant the word prejudice literally, not to mean only disapproval. To be ignorant of the nature of an ignorance, yet make judgment based on it, simply because it’s there.

There are no “areas of thought.” There are ways of thought, and there are conceptions of thought, but there are no borders that can be drawn as if on a map. I think there may be nothing more socially crippling than this . . . intellectual nationalism of sorts.

If someone is incompatible with the available ways of thought, the responsibility to help that person gain the seemingly necessary concepts still lies on the most thoughtful; and it usually only takes a small number of new ways of thought to help a person gain the needed concepts. The problem is that the powers behind the spread of popular ways of thought compete for control instead of work in cooperation. It is often valuable for conflicting concepts to compete, but even the outcome of those competitions rarely negate the value of either concept completely. Considering this, imagine the foolishness of assuming the competitions between ways-of-thought are definitive. Imagine how foolish it is, to base education not only on certain determined concepts that “must” be held by “everyone,” but to base it on certain ways of thought that “must” be had by “everyone”, “so that they may gain the concepts that must be had by everyone.”

And if someone is truly insolent to all or almost all new ways of thought, then there is neurosis involved, and the last thing that person should experience is prejudice from others.

An adult being forced to force themselves into strict ways of thought in order to gain “degrees” of education or “levels” of experience is unacceptably disrespectful to both the individual and society as a whole. Imagine how I feel about what we do to children in the mandatory school systems. We condition people to restrict their ways of thought, justifying this by simply claiming people must be taught the clearly necessary concepts. But as we gain more and more concepts, we see that that alone can not be the justifier; there is no one set of even basic concepts that every person must have that is so difficult to gain that they must be forced into over-specific ways of thought to gain them.

The resistance to this is only natural, and it is only pretentious if it is pretentious for a dog to fear its owner if its owner punishes it for behaving like a dog. Maybe it is, but it warrants no prejudice.

iamthemob's avatar


I should clarify…I feel like you went off on an unintended tangent because you’re right – I used an unclear phrasing. I did not mean “areas of thought” as if there were distinct ways of thinking so I agree with your critique.

I meant there’s little excuse to have no idea about the economy, or the legal system, or basic physics, etc. Of course, you may not know it in the instant of a conversation, and that’s fine. However, if you want to comment on it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do a little research regarding the issue before forming an opinion. If you do, I think there’s no excuse for that as information becomes more readily available.

That’s all.

zophu's avatar

@iamthemob Despite the many resources of information available, there are natural reasons people are often unable to open themselves up to many or most or sometimes all of them in specific cases. Researching skills are not spontaneously acquired, and the materials available to be researched are rarely naturally intelligible. The natural way to learn is by expressing ignorance so that the differently-ignorant may help draw new concepts for all involved to share. It is important to discourage the expression of ignorance only when it is disruptive in a very practical sense. The inorganic hierarchies of education, like the hierarchies in the rest of society, are disgusting in how they condition people to attack those who “act too smart for their dumbness.” There’s no excuse for it, so people usually don’t go too far, but if the inclination is there it will occasionally be expressed. When people lay there vulnerability at your feet, tread softly, even when they do it with little respect. Always tread softly.

iamthemob's avatar


I was thinking that while I was typing. However, as it becomes increasingly available, it’s less acceptable.

At this point, computer access is pretty much the only thing that I think holds anyone back. However, if you have a computer, internet connection, and wikipedia – you should be able to figure out the basics of anything. Soon, there will be no excuse.

If you don’t decide to back up your knowledge a little bit…that’s just you being lazy (again, assuming you’re not in the middle of a discussion).

zophu's avatar

@iamthemob Yeah, I guess a part of the point I’m trying to make is that laziness, when it comes to learning, is due to neurosis and can’t be dismissed as a fluke of nature. It’s too consistent. The loss of any innate drive to learn seems to be caused and expected by the educational institutions, and so arbitrary disciplines must be encouraged through shallow incentives. Conceding to this loss and making use of the the incentives to press forward is the key to “success,” but I can’t say it’s better than trying to hold onto a sense of wonder and free-intuition even if that means resisting conventional knowledge in insolent ways that leaves one the inferior during political talks at dinner parties.

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