The Self-Promotion Paradox

We live in an era of rampant narcissism. The word “selfie” has ingrained itself in our lexicon, our social media feeds are full of celebrities with no discernible talent except egotism, and both mainstream sensationalist media and the average consumer have to scream over one another to get anybody to listen.

I hate it–and I’m the problem.

Both of my passions, martial arts and creative writing, face the same dilemma. If you don’t promote yourself, then who will?

We post pictures or videos ironically with the disclaimer, “Sorry for the shameless self-promotion.” Of course, if we were actually sorry, we wouldn’t publish the post. Yet it is increasingly acceptable to stand at the top of a building and sing your own praises to anyone who will listen. Everyone I know who is considered successful in their own field has, at some point, blatantly advocated for themselves.

We all have our own agendas behind our “brand.” We also all have egos that feel rewarded when we get recognition within our cliques and communities. We all feel as though it is justified to self-promote–because we are right and everybody else is wrong.

So how do you know if you’re fighting the good fight for truth and righteousness, or if you’re one of the bullshit artists endlessly clamouring for another like or share?

Full disclosure: of course, I check my blog stats more often than I should. And, sadly, the results do affect my self-esteem. I already told you, I’m part of the problem.

Discussion vs. Doctrine

One thing that occurs to me is that there is a difference between promoting discussion within your community rather than promoting a doctrine that you want people to subscribe to. Disagreement is far more interesting than universal agreement. Preaching to the choir doesn’t get you noticed, and eventually the choir is going to stop listening.

A lot of my most successful posts have expressed opinions that, even five years ago, my past self would have fought vehemently against. It’s a sign of growth and development, but also a conversation between my past, current, and future selves. I genuinely hope that I look back at these posts in the future and feel embarrassed. This is a process, and it’s one that I want to share with my colleagues and friends to see how their paths are evolving along the same or different lines.

Discussion can go off topic, digress into anecdote, influence old beliefs, and create new ones. Doctrine is static, defined, and boring. Doctrine may earn a like, but never a comment.

Principles or Personalities?

Through self-promotion, are you putting something valuable into the universe, or simply asking for recognition to satisfy your own ego? The answer, of course, is yes. It’s hard to tell the difference, but Bushi Matsumura put it like this: “To all those whose progress remains hampered by ego-related distractions let humility, the spiritual cornerstone upon which the fighting traditions rest, serve to remind you to place virtue ahead of vice, values ahead of vanity and principles ahead of personalities.”[i]

Perhaps this is the difference between self-promotion as an act of selfishness and self-promotion as an act of altruism. Is there an enduring message that goes beyond your own personal agenda? Does that message align with greater ideals that transcend your own flawed perspective and say something greater about the human experience? Will your sentiments echo and be recognized by others as articulating something they have felt, but haven’t put into words?

Then again, maybe this is too much to ask. Maybe a selfie is just a goddamn selfie.

Solipsism for the Win!

Solipsism is the philosophy that we only definitively know that the self exists; the rest of the universe may be in our imagination. The corollary is that we are bound by our own perspectives. We can’t really see another person’s point of view, because we are biased by being who we are.

We promote ourselves because we recognize the inherent value in our own ideas and opinions, even when no one else does. Social media is dangerous because it reinforces this through confirmation bias. It feeds content only to people who are already inclined to agree with it.

So really, we are just in an echo chamber, screaming over our own reverberations in the hope that someone will notice and acknowledge us. Is there a solution?

Allow for silence. Take a break. Become a minimalist in terms of posts and self-promotion. Follow the “less is more” philosophy. Speak only when you feel compelled to. Do it better than me.

In the words of the Bubishi, “An empty vessel makes the most noise.”[ii]


[i] McCarthy, Patrick. “Beyond Physical Training.” International Ryukyu Karate Research Society Blog. <http://irkrs.blogspot.com/2013/12/beyond-physical-training.html> 1994.

[ii] McCarthy, Patrick (Trans.) Bubishi: The Bible of Karate. Tuttle Publishing, 1995. Pg. 67.

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