The concept of “bragging rights” is a popular notion in our culture. Whenever you win an argument or any other contest with no tangible prize, you win “bragging rights,” or the right to tell everyone around you about your victory. And while doing so is usually harmless, albeit a little annoying, it raises an interesting question: Where is the line between bragging and telling other people your good news? After all, whenever we get a new job, a new significant other, or a good grade on a test, we want to tell people. It’s a natural response. But does this tendency to share our good fortune turn into bragging?
In a way, the two are incredibly similar, differentiated only by subjective elements like tone of voice. But I believe that the two acts can often be distinguished on the basis of two things. The first is who your audience is. There is nothing wrong with telling your closest family and friends about the great thing that just happened to you. They will probably genuinely want to hear about it so that they can congratulate you. On the other hand, posting your good news on Facebook, where you probably have an audience of hundreds or even thousands, rings of bragging. It’s the online equivalent of standing in the center of campus, jumping up and down, screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I just got a promotion at work!” None of us would do that in real life, so why do it online?
The second element that comes into play when disentangling sharing from bragging is the circumstances of your audience. For example, if you were volunteering in a homeless shelter, you’d probably want to avoid talking about your three-story house in downtown Boston. The same principle applies, albeit less drastically, on college campuses. Especially around this time of year, some college students have already secured summer jobs and internships, while others are still struggling to do so. There is a lot of stress that is provoked by the summer internship search, and from speaking to my fellow classmates, I’ve learned that one thing that makes it worse is hearing from people who already have their summer figured out. Therefore, I believe that it’s insensitive to post on Facebook about your internship offer, when you are quite literally in the middle of a sea of people who are trying desperately to achieve the same thing. This is the same reason why college counselors often tell high school seniors not to post about their college acceptances on Facebook. It’s about being considerate to people who are struggling to achieve what you already have. So congratulations, keep it to yourself and a few close friends.
But all too often, people do share their good news on Facebook and other platforms designed to spread this information as far as it can go, regardless of who the audience is or what they might be experiencing. There are many reasons why people might do this, and most of them have no malicious intent behind them. They might just be so used to using Facebook to share whatever they’re thinking about after years of doing so. They might have seen others do the same thing, leading them to believe that the practice is harmless. Or they might think that Facebook is the fastest and easiest way to reach the small number of people who actually do want to hear about your good fortune.
Unfortunately, people never really stop to consider which of these reasons, if any, is driving them to post on Facebook. People never think about how what they’re doing is affecting other people. And maybe that one of the reasons why they don’t is wrapped up in the term “bragging rights.” A right is something that you are completely legally allowed to do in almost any circumstance. It’s an ability that’s yours, and no one, save law enforcement, can take that ability away from you.
But the law can only take us so far. The law has no relation to morality, and in my opinion, an action is only “correct” or “OK” insofar as it is sanctioned by both law and morality. If both of these systems are considered, bragging is never really a “right.” It’s not even a privilege. It’s something to be avoided whenever possible.