One of the most annoying qualities a person can display is smugness.
Smugness distinguishes itself from confidence in that it’s based on the unearned and undeserved, rather than the honestly achieved.
As a result, smugness is pretentious and self-conscious, while confidence is quiet and even radiant.
People don’t always have the words or concepts to identify the difference between smugness and confidence, but they can usually sense it — and respond to it, accordingly.
Smugness is defined by various dictionaries as follows:
“Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one’s situation; self-righteously complacent.” [freedictionary.com]
“An often unjustified feeling of being pleased with oneself or with one’s situation or achievements (the sense of smugness that can come with too many easy victories)” [Merriam-Webster]
“Excessively self-satisfied or complacent.” [Dictionary.com]
Some synonyms of smugness: aloofness, audacity, haughtiness, pretentiousness, arrogance, conceit [Thesaurus.com]
Smugness does not merely convey an attitude that, “I know I did well.” When such an attitude is backed up by objective fact, it’s not arrogance — it’s confidence. Insecure people mistakenly label genuine confidence arrogance or smugness, because they know of no other way to attack the deserving accomplishment they resent.
Notice the emphasis in one definition of smugness on easy victories. Rational people never resent a deserving victory. It’s when that victory was unearned, or came too easily, that smugness is perceived as present.
Smugness does convey an attitude that, “I’m better than you.” Reasonable people react negatively to this attitude. They understand, or at least sense, that accomplished people are not concerned with how well they do in relation to others. They do concern themselves with excelling, and are often far ahead of the pack anyway.
Individuals with confidence are always trying to “best” their own highest level of achievement, regardless of what others have or have not done, to date. They’re competing with their own last and best performance more than with the performance of another. Insecure people speak of “competition;” the genuinely confident speak of achievement.
A smug person usually has little or nothing to offer. If he did, he wouldn’t need to compare himself to others in the first place. And if he weren’t using others as his standard, he’d be focusing instead on whatever it is he’s trying to excel at.
This is why smugness is so disliked. It’s like a counterfeit confidence. It’s an insult to earned and deserved confidence. It’s an attitude which if permitted to honestly and openly speak would say, “I don’t have anything to offer but I don’t care. I’m superior to you anyway.” Whether on the playground, in the bedroom, the boardroom, or in the Oval Office, it’s one of the most sickening and uninspiring attitudes of which human beings are capable.
Whenever you see a smug person, try to feel more than anger. Remember that you’re witnessing the smug person’s confession of his or her own inner hollowness. It’s a sad spectacle. In the presence of genuine character or accomplishment, you’ll never see a trace of smugness. It would never occur to the confident person to act or feel smug. It’s only required of someone with little or nothing to offer, other than a psychologically lame substitution where genuine achievement might have been.
There is a lot of smugness in society. This is because more and more parents have a false idea of self-esteem. They tell they’re children they’re good, bright and brilliant — merely because they’re alive and breathing. No conditions are required, not even for self-respect. On a deeper level, too little — or even nothing — is expected of life. As a result, they find pseudo-confidence in their mere existence, and they act like they’re entitled to things merely because they want them “And I’m me, and I’m great, after all.” A society filled with people like this is headed for a crash, something more troubling and all-encompassing than a mere economic crash (which is bad enough).
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