Post No.: 0249
‘Basking in reflected glory’ (or BIRGing) is when people associate themselves with the successes of others, such that a successful person’s (or team’s) achievements and high status becomes one’s own sense of achievement and status, even if one had no profound personal involvement with the successful party’s accomplishments whatsoever i.e. this sense of self-glory has not, in a reasonable sense, been earned.
Any association with a winner (e.g. they share the same birthplace as us, went to the same school as us, is a relative to us) is sufficient to stimulate a self-serving sense of glory. Prime examples are found when people feel a sense of personal pride when the sports team or country they support wins something. All else being equal, people will even agree with another person more if they share the same birthday with them!
Whom we feel a pride in or want to succeed, and whom we are jealous of or want to see fail, quite accurately reveals our own conscious or unconscious tribal ingroup biases. People cannot say they are impartial if they feel more joy inside of themselves for one group winning over another. Well they can say they’re impartial (similar to how people can say they’re not racist) but their implicit biases will reveal otherwise.
It’s okay to feel some pride in one’s country or other tribe, and this behaviour can boost or protect one’s self-esteem, and one might argue that one’s taxes did help contribute to a national figure’s success (e.g. helping to fund their arts industry), or buying a sports team’s merchandise somewhat helped fund that club’s success, and if not then they surely felt the positive mental impact of one’s support, for instance – but people can feel pride with whomever they’re associated with even when these things aren’t true. It’s not necessarily harmful, unless people cannot find their own intrinsic self-worth and can only feel worthy according to whom they’re associated with. And gone too far, basking in reflected glory can create delusions about one’s own abilities and importance.
We may try to associate ourselves with even things like brands, and brands may try to associate themselves with successful public figures (e.g. using top athletes in their adverts) hence strategically basking in their reflected glory. But whom or what we associate with isn’t always about who or what’s successful or powerful – overall, it’s about signalling our own social identity. However, most of the time, we would rather signal a favourable identity and so will try to affiliate ourselves with what’s successful. The halo and horn effects explored in Post No.: 0232 are also about how our judgements of people and things are affected by what they’re perceptually associated with.
The flipside of basking in reflected glory is ‘cutting off reflected failure’ (or CORFing), where people try to dissociate themselves from losers or other people with low or damaged status because they don’t want their reputations affected by being associated with such people who are considered failures. For example, a classic excuse is ‘it was only the case of a few bad apples’ in one’s company or industry whenever there’s a scandal, while implying that one is personally distanced from those said ‘bad apples’.
This highlights how biased our own self-serving self-concepts are! We’ll associate anything good with ourselves that we can yet try to distance ourselves with anything that’s bad. This is human nature and no one views the world objectively.
So people bask in reflected glory with people or groups they like to (voluntarily) or are forced to (by birth e.g. ethnically) associate themselves with, and try to cut off any reflected failure if possible. If the latter is not possible though, we can be insecure and overly critical of members of our own ingroup if they’re underperforming – as if they represent us and they’d be embarrassing us (i.e. not merely themselves) in front of a bunch of outgroup members with their actions if they fail. So we can also end up ‘basking in reflected shame’ too, although less so because of the bias of ‘we won’ if the team we support wins but ‘they lost’ if the team we support loses! To the English, a Scottish person is British if he/she wins, and Scottish if he/she loses! These feelings again reveal our own fuzzy biases. Woof!
National or local pride is therefore a double-edged sword. If a representative of ours wins then we can personally feel good about that, but if a representative of ours loses badly then we can once again feel that it’s a reflection on us personally too – sometimes to the point where some trolls will issue death threats to those representatives (who often didn’t ask to be representatives because no one chooses where they’re born or raised); even though these critics couldn’t have done any better themselves. Well if one was better than them at that activity then one would’ve represented one’s country instead of them at that activity(!) Winning in a Summer or Winter Olympic games, for instance, depends on a lot of luck as well as hard work (e.g. it comes only once every 4 years and so if one peaks in one’s career in any of the 3 out of 4 years that aren’t Olympic years, or gets injured in any of the 1 out of 4 years that are Olympic years, then one could miss out on a medal). People who truly undertake sports and other challenges know full well that mistakes and slips can happen at any time due to the nature of pushing to the limits.
So, for some more than others, and more in some contexts than others, we tend to take personal reflection in the successes, and occasionally failures, of those whom we are voluntarily or involuntarily associated with, whether we even personally know these people or not. In a sense, we are self-stereotyping i.e. stereotyping our own ingroups, as if the traits of other ingroup members generalise to everyone within that ingroup too, including ourselves.
But we should know that it’s folly when we stereotype outgroup members as holding homogenous qualities (e.g. ‘everyone from foreign country x are not funny’), hence we should understand that basking in reflected glories and other kinds of associated basking are typically folly too.