Arrogance is the quality of being arrogant.
An utterly useless statement, of course. Circular definitions are unhelpful most of the time.
I find arrogance interesting. I find it interesting because I too often find myself engaging in it. I recognize it when it creeps up on me and changes my tone of voice and body language. I recognize it when a superior smirk tries to manifest on my face when I believe I’m right and everyone who doesn’t agree is an idiot.
It’s not a tendency I’m particularly proud of. Arrogance veers uncomfortably close to contempt and neither are laudable states.
Religion and philosophy both caution us against engaging in the negative and harmful behaviours we’re prone to. Christianity’s list of the seven deadly sins we need to avoid is echoed by various faiths and schools of thought: beware pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
At first glance, it seems that arrogance, being left off, might not be that bad. But wait. What is arrogance, exactly, beyond the circular definition in the open?
According to Merriam-Webster, who I have no reason to doubt, arrogance is exaggerating one’s worth or importance, often with an overbearing manner. Arrogance is also showing an offensive attitude of superiority. I definitely tick the box with the latter; you rarely encounter a self-effacing and humble smirk.
One could argue that arrogance is a form of pride, which means it qualifies as one of the deadly vices we’re exhorted to avoid.
I struggle with my sense of self-worth. This makes my struggle with arrogance ironically amusing. You’d think that a belief in your essential “not good enough-ness” would prohibit smug superiority. Apparently, that’s not the case.
Arrogance tends to pretentiousness. When I’m arrogant, I make like an expert. An ugly one. I don’t teach. I lecture. I pontificate. I mock the lack of knowledge, overtly and internally. The behaviour is gross and more suited to an indulged and spoiled brat than to the enlightened and kind individual I’m trying to become. What virtue is there in assuming you’re better than others just because you have a different skill set or area of interest?
As I regularly remind myself, smart is not synonymous with special.
I hate it when the situation is reversed. I don’t like being on the receiving end of an arrogant mien. I hate being patronized for a lack of knowledge. I’m not an idiot because I don’t understand the inner workings of my car and can’t change the oil on my own. I’m not an idiot, I’m simply ignorant; car maintenance is a field of study I never pursued. It doesn’t make me a moron.
Of course, by that logic, other people not knowing what I know doesn’t make them morons either. Arrogance is, therefore, neither required nor appropriate.
People used to venerate arrogance’s opposite. They used to preach humility. To be humble used to be seen as a good thing. Not so much of late.
It would be nice to get back to it but it’ll be challenging. Humility is one of the hardest traits to develop because it has to start with recognizing you’re not always right and you don’t have all the answers and who wants to think like that in an age where winning is not simply a thing but the only thing.
When I think about humility, the first thing that pops into mind is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
When I think about humility, I picture the scene that has Indy crawling through tunnels as he attempts to reach the Holy Grail. The path is littered with the headless unfortunate who tried before him. He hears a whistle and drops to his knees just in time to avoid having his head cut off. “Humble before God.” It’s a good metaphor for arrogance.
You are not “head and shoulders” above anyone else.
To be humble, to have humility is to have a modest view of one’s skill set and achievement. A humble person doesn’t believe they’re all that, doesn’t believe they’re better than. Humble people do the best they can at every given moment and don’t look for credit or praise.
They probably don’t smirk either.
I love the Little House on the Prairie books. I got the boxed set from my godmother when I was a child and I devoured it. I loved the Ingalls family. They weren’t trying to be better than anyone else. They weren’t trying to “win”. They were trying to do their best without causing harm. There was rarely a drop of arrogance to be found and if it showed up, it was quickly corrected by a salutary life lesson.
The Ingalls’ didn’t have time for arrogance. They were too busy living their lives. They didn’t see the world in a win-lose way, something else that contributes to arrogance. They were “us” not “me”. They were gratitude, not entitled-to.
We’ve replaced humility as ideal with one that argues for winning at any cost and being right all the time. We’ve replaced “we’re all in this together” with “me, me, me”.
We like to think we’re good people. We like to think we’re good listeners, optimistic, approachable, helpful, and unfailingly kind. And we are. Sometimes. But sometimes we’re not.
Sometimes, I’m arrogant. Sometimes, I’m smug. Truly humble rings the bell only on rare occasions.
I should work on that. I don’t want to lose my head.
A collection of tips to help you develop humility:
1. Listen to other people. Don’t just wait for them to stop talking. Listen. Process. Understand. Listen to other people like you’re not the most important person in the room. Don’t interrupt.
2. Stay in the moment, stay present. Practice mindfulness. Practice accepting what is. Be here and be now. It’s not like you can be anywhere else.
3. Practice gratitude. It helps you avoid comparisons, which leads to rankings, which leads to feelings of superiority and inferiority. Practice gratitude. Discover awe. The world is an amazing thing in a universe that is also an amazing thing. Everything in it is wondrous and fantastic. It’s hard to feel smug when you look at the brilliance everywhere that you had little if nothing to do with.
4. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. Be grateful. We often think we have to do everything alone, either because we have to or because we think we’re the only ones who can. That’s arrogant. Stop doing that.
5. Review your actions and words against the language of pride, which is arrogance’s kissing cousin. Pride is one of those emotions you need to be careful with. Pride is like pepper. A little is good but too much is a very bad thing, indeed.
6. Accept that you’ll make mistakes. You’ll struggle. You’ll stumble. It’s fine. It’s part of life. Do the best you can and when you falter, shake yourself off and keep going. But don’t brag when you get there. Don’t assume you’re the only one who can or has made the trip.
7. Talk less about yourself and more about other people. Ask questions. Be curious. Don’t dwell on their perceived faults either; regardless of what you may think, you aren’t perfect.
Do you struggle with arrogance?