When it comes to human vices, I have no problem getting on board with greed. After all, I can never say no to a second helping of chocolate cake, so who am I to judge? I can sympathise with the instinct to lie, because to tell you the truth, you need a bit of dishonesty to smoothen the wheels of social discourse. I have no quarrel with avarice because if we didn’t want more than we have, then we’d probably still be stuck in the Dark Ages. Bad temper I can cope with, because God knows I am no saint in that department. And I can make my peace with lust because without that the human race would have died out long ago.
There’s just one thing that I simply cannot stand: smugness. There is something so smarmy and nasty about it that it gets my hackles up the moment it hoves into view. No sooner does it rear its ugly head in my vicinity than I want to tear it right off and shove it someplace where the sun never shines. Okay, so patience is not my strong suit, but seriously, what other honest reaction can you have to smugness?
I was reminded of this when I saw the holiday snaps of American President Obama and his lovely family on vacation in a natural park in Maine. There they were, the tall and handsome Barack, his slim and beautiful wife Michelle, and their two beautiful daughters, riding bikes, trekking up mountains, going for long walks, playing one sport or another. Frankly, it made me wonder when they found the time to catch their breath, let alone have an entire meal.
But the message behind all these photo-opportunities was clear. See, the Obamas seemed to be saying to all their fellow (obese) Americans, this is how a healthy family goes on holiday. And if you want to be as thin and beautiful as us, steer clear of those Happy Meals at McDonald’s, stay away from those slot machines at Vegas, and for God’s sake, get off your fat backsides and do some exercise. You can skip like the First Lady, play basketball like the President or hula-hoop your way to fitness like Sasha and Malia. This is what you should be doing on holiday, not kicking back with a six-pack of beer and an oversized packet of crisps.
Now, tell me, how irritating is that? Isn’t it enough that we have to deal with picture-perfect photographs of celebrities and their fabulous lives? Do they have to shame us with images of their aerobicised annual vacations as well? But while the smugness might begin with celebrities, it certainly doesn’t stop with them. It is alive and well and flourishing in your vicinity, thanks to your many friends, family members, casual acquaintances, neighbours and passing strangers.
It rears its ugly head with your sibling who can’t stop showing off about the fact that he is making double the money than you are; his kids are doing much better in school; his car is twice the size of yours; his house was recently remodelled; and his wife is still hot enough to elicit admiring glances from the neighbourhood boys.
In the office, this smugness manifests itself in that co-worker who always manages to have his work ready ahead of time, drawing unnecessary attention to the fact that you have missed your deadline yet again. Or it could show up in the boss who is convinced that he is right about everything – and maddeningly enough, always is.
The sad truth is that there is simply no escaping smugness in our everyday lives. You will encounter it in the gym in the person of that hyper-fit young woman who insists on doing her stretches right in the middle of the room so that everyone can marvel at her contortionist ways. Or in that over-muscled man who grunts and groans away in the weights section so that no one can remain oblivious of the fact that he is bench-pressing double his body weight.
In the swimming pool, you will encounter the mandatory bikini babe who is there not to swim but to show off her perfectly-buffed frame. So, she spends all her time on the lounger, rubbing suntan lotion into her exfoliated, cellulite-free body, and adjusting her straps so that she tans evenly – while all the other women lunge for their bathrobes the moment they are out of the water.
Go shopping for groceries or vegetables and you will invariably be stuck behind someone who wants to know where the cherries or pears are from, whether they have any organic basmati rice, and could they possibly rustle up some roasted snacks rather than all this deep-fried rubbish.
And I’m pretty sure that we all have the neighbour from hell, whose garden looks pristine no matter what the season, whose ficus is always doing better than ours, whose children never seem to break anyone’s windows when they play cricket, and whose wife manages to cook a hot dinner every night despite holding down a demanding job (and who can’t understand why you order in from Domino’s quite so often).
The underlying message behind all this smugness – no matter how or where it manifests itself – is the same: “Hey, look, I am much better than you. And you couldn’t possibly be as healthy, slim, hard-working, successful, talented, rich or happy as I am, no matter how hard you tried.” You tell me. What’s not to hate?
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