We currently have visitors staying; some very good Australian friends who have come back from 3 years in England. I asked them what they enjoyed most about being there and one thing mentioned was the British self-deprecating humour. It’s hard to find any other culture that has the same element. There is something very British about not taking ourselves seriously. It’s not the Australian tall poppy syndrome where we cut others down but, rather, a genuine humility borne first out of a sense of what is proper (ie not boasting) and then, I would suggest, a further coming-to-terms with the massive decline in British power and influence over the second half of the 20th Century.
As the BBC puts it, in it’s guide to Britain for Olympic visitors,
To listen to a conversation between Britons about their careers, say, or educational histories, an observer from a more forthright culture might be forgiven for assuming the participants were morbidly depressed. Chances are they’d be wrong. Self-deprecation is an inescapable part of British discourse. The only socially acceptable way to talk about one’s achievements is to diminish them. The affection held for that paragon ofself-mockery, Stephen Fry, is testament to the national love of this brand of humour. The UK is, after all, a country where showing off is considered the height of bad form and boastfulness regarded as the very height of vulgarity. Charm and wit, by extension, are demonstrated by making oneself the butt of one’s own jokes. Outsiders might conclude that this tendency to self-effacement reflects the UK’s diminished global status as a former imperial power. But don’t be fooled. Times columnist Matthew Parris argues that this tendency is, in fact, a subtly disguised form of self-aggrandisement. “British self-deprecation is actually quite boastful,” he says. “Its primary purpose is to show how relaxed, at ease and confident you are. It’s a sign of being so in command that you can undersell yourself.” So is British self-deprecation just one big humblebrag? We really are useless, aren’t we, utterly useless.
Matthew Parris is utterly wrong. We really are rubbish. And we love it.
And so the opening ceremony for the Olympic games was full of lovely moments of self-deprecation. Take this for instance…
Think about it – that’s us making fun of ourselves. But it gets better because self-deprecation and not taking oneself seriously really has to be a part of not just our culture but even our greatest national institutions for this to happen…
Love it. It makes me (ironically) proud to be British.
Now, consider this. I’m not saying that being British is the closest you can get to being Christian without actually being Christian (!) but there is a call in the Christian life to self-deprecation – not of a comedic form but something altogether different. Christians are self-deprecating because they want to have the honour and glory and boasting go somewhere else – to Jesus Himself. As a Church we’re working through 2 Corinthians and we cannot help but be struck with this particular attitude that the Apostle Paul has. Time and time again he is self-deprecating:
2 Cor. 10:17-18 But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
2 Cor. 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Of course, the Apostle is no Mr Bean. There is plenty there be proud about and confident in, lots to boast of, but nothing of his own making and so he is, if you will pardon me the term, very British. He points to his own weakness – but not out of a proper British politeness but, rather, because He knows where any true greatness comes from – Jesus Himself. So this Olympic season, as we spend 2 weeks hearing about how great so many atheletes are, how about some very
British Christian self-deprecation?