When someone refers to another as “unpretentious” it is often quite a compliment. Such a statement is not typically made with cool detachment but with great pleasure. After all, unpretentious people are not only people we like but are often people who cause us to feel good when we are with them.
Meanwhile, we may know also know some people who we might describe as “pretentious.” These people perceive themselves to be important and have a way of being with others that may cause them to feel critiqued and evaluated.
I recall a conversation with a woman who had walked into a social setting where she was to meet a new friend. She sensed the eyes of others staring at her. She felt as if others were thinking, “Who is she and who invited her here?”
Meanwhile, her new friend came into the room and warmly greeted her guest. In spite of the rather cool beginning, she actually enjoyed the evening. The nice evening was attributed to her friend whom she describes as being completely unpretentious.
Have you been in situations like this where you were put at ease by another’s lack of self-importance?
Yet, I also know a man whom many describe as pompous and full of himself. Consequently, some people are intimidated by him and withdraw from any meaningful interaction with him. You may also recall an experience of being in the presence of someone who could be described as pretentious.
Do these sound familiar?
1. You feel very small and insignificant in that person’s presence.
2. You feel self-conscious in that person’s presence.
3. You become preoccupied with comparing yourself to that person when you are with him.
Notice what happens. When you are with a person who seems to be preoccupied with his or her own self-importance, you may find that you also are preoccupied with yourself. You may focus on your inadequacies and how you feel “less than” in various ways.
I don’t know anyone who would say that he desired to be a pretentious person. Yet, I know people (and some may be in our congregations) who have reputations for making others feel quite small.
Do I tend to dominate the conversation with dialogue about the important people I’ve met and the exotic places I’ve traveled without showing any real interest in the person who I am talking with? Am I asking that person questions about her life, her thoughts, and her aspirations?
Do I sometimes use subtle put-downs (often disguised as joking) in conversation with others? Or do I think about how my words might impact others, even in jest?
Do people leave my presence feeling small, unimportant and insignificant? Or, do they leave feeling valued?