Edit desk: BIRG and CORF


I like to tell people that Super Bowl XLVIII was hosted in my hometown.

Klaudia Jazwinska

Klaudia Jazwinska

It’s not like I had anything to do with it, or that I even care remotely about football. When I say this, I’m just “BIRGing” — Basking In Reflected Glory.

We all do it all the time. We take credit for the accomplishments of others, even if we had no role in the creation of that success.

And when things go downhill, we bail, or “CORF” — Cut Off Reflected Failure. We don’t want to be denigrated by others’ defeat.

BIRGing and CORFing are phenomena of social identity theory, one of the most influential studies of which was done by psychologist Robert Cialdini in 1976. Though the two acronyms are often used to describe the behavior of sports fans, I find they are also applicable to peoples’ reactions to various aspects of life.

We allow our egos to get tied up in the success or failure of things that are essentially out of our control — such as sports, politics, popular culture or even other individuals’ lives — and we use BIRGing and CORFing as a sort of reactionary coping mechanism to minimize discomfort and maximize satisfaction.

In this way, we often seek to gain acceptance by associating ourselves with what is respected by others. For example, I try to use the repute of my hometown to gain points with people when I tell them where I live.

These sorts of attitudes play into the mainstream culture, and they influence the way we present ourselves to the public, especially on social media. We are constantly rallying for or against topical social issues, pop culture figures, memes and so on. Similarly, we often avoid showing our support for people or things that have been dismissed from the popular discourse.

Relevance is fleeting, and we use instincts of BIRGing and CORFing to keep abreast of the ephemerality of popular opinion.

Is this because we’re selfish and self-serving? Is BIRGing and CORFing inherently inauthentic?

In a sense, these are mechanisms that can be useful in attempting to navigate the ebbs and flows of daily life and counter threats to self-esteem. However, relying too much on methods of ego-preservation can also be harmful. The cognitive dissonance associated with BIRGing and CORFing can cause an individual to become delusional, or forget that, in reality, they did not actually have a role in the success of a given person, thing or event.

We as a Lehigh community do this. For example, we embrace our affiliation with alumnus C.J. McCollum, ’13, a successful basketball player, but distance ourselves from Robert Durst, ’65, the real estate heir turned infamous murderer. Though justifiable, isn’t our behavior a tad hypocritical? Aren’t both alumni equally a part of the Lehigh community in some sense?

This also happens during Le-Laf. Each year, we say, “We beat Lafayette!” or “The team lost.” Our desire to remove ourselves from failure is evident in subtle changes in pronoun use — “we” won (BIRGing) or “they” lost (CORFing) — when discussing the same team in different circumstances.

In work environments, members are likewise motivated to align themselves with successful projects. This can sometimes contribute to the erosion of fellowship and productivity, as people are not collaborating for the betterment of a group, but are rather working to promote their own individual successes.

It’s not my place to say whether BIRGing and CORFing are inherently positive or negative. Obviously, human nature and identity are far more nuanced and complex than to simply be categorized into two types of behavior. And though they are nearly unavoidable, we mustn’t allow these sorts of attitudes to have too much control over our lives and actions.

Always basking in others’ triumphs and ignoring disappointments seems like a superficial way to live. I encourage you to take the opportunity to step back once in a while and consider your behavior in the face of others’ success and failure.

Flexibility and open-mindedness are important, but so is knowing what you believe in. You don’t have to agree with every single element of the cause, person or thing you are supporting, but always following along with the mainstream opinion just to preserve your ego and reputation can result in hypocritical behavior.

Sometimes, to prove what you stand for, you’ve got to be willing to weather the storm. That’s how you ascertain your values and build lasting, meaningful relationships.

Klaudia Jazwinska, ’18, is the lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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