Picture arrogance and a person strutting about bragging how great they are comes to mind. However, arrogance comes in other forms such as being “over-bearing, over-confident, pompous, or vain”. It can also include “bigotry, dominance, self-importance, self-righteousness, and smugness” as well.
Excessive humility, the reverse can also be a form of arrogance. Prime Minister Golda Meir (Israel, 1898 - 1978) is quoted as saying, “Don’t be so humble. You are not that great.” Consider the Uriah Heep character in Charles Dickens’s novel “David Copperfield” (1850). Since he was so humble, Heep regarded himself to be superior to other people.
Having high self-esteem or self-respect is not being arrogant. People do need a healthy sense of self-respect to be mentally well. Once we respect ourselves, we can respect others. Tolerance stems from our ability to love ourselves. Furthermore, if we possess self-esteem, we will also accept responsibility for our actions.
The National Association for Self-Esteem defines self-respect as “the experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.” Having high self-esteem does not mean that we are egoists or possess a sense of superiority. The opposite is true for arrogance instead comes from low self-esteem.
One example of arrogance is the belief that we are exceptional. People in the United States are often told that their country is the “shining city on the hill” or “the last best hope of Earth.” These statements assumes that the United States is unique and worthy of universal admiration.
However, thinking that they are special is normal for many countries. In her book, “The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914” (1966), noted historian Barbara Tuchman (American, 1912-1989) observed that the Great Powers of Europe during the 19th Century thought the same as the United States does today. Even the Roman Republic/Empire believed that in their territorial expansion, they alone were advancing the cause of civilization. In every instance, these powers thought that they were the final arbitrators of the “greater good”.
Seeing others through our lens of superiority denies them their worthiness. We do see others not as they actually are but as our inferiors. Therefore we can subject them to our will since we “know better” than they.
Arrogance seeps into places where we are unaware of. For example, to feel superior, some people will make a virtue of being poor. By doing this, it helps them to feel good about themselves. They can denigrate the well-off people without desiring to change their status quo.
Another example of the perniciousness of arrogance is what is taught about the Persian Empire in most history classes. What many people know about this large, stable, polyglot empire is from the Ancient Greeks. Mortal enemies of the Persians, the Greeks believed that they were morally superior to the Persians. While the citizens of Persia had considerable freedoms, many citizens of the various Greek city states lived under tyranny. However, the majority of historical information about Persia comes from Greek sources.
The concept of hubris or overweening pride comes from the Greeks. Hubris leads to a feeling of invincibility which leads to complacency. From complacency comes failure. History abounds with examples of hubris such as the Chernobyl Reactor Meltdown of 1986.
Arrogance becomes another form of control. What I do not like, I can be rid of. Through self-importance, I can feel privileged to eliminate any unpleasantness that I come across. Because of my strong personality, I need to keep it in check and respect others.
Underneath arrogance is fear, envy or sorrow. Fear and rage will also mask themselves as arrogance. It is easier to control and tear down others than to face the primary feeling lying beneath the surface. Arrogance can stem from brokenness, and keeps us from seeking relief.
Healthy self-esteem and pride springs from a sense of wholeness. Being kind to others begins when we finally start loving ourselves. An antidote to arrogance is being generous with ourselves and others.
London, Herbert, “The Dangers of Hubris”, American Outlook, 7 April 2002, Pundicity, http://www.herblondon.org/1384/the-dangers-of-hubris,
Miller, Laura, “‘Sybil Exposed’: Memory, lies, and therapy”, Salon.com, 16 October 2011, http://www.salon.com/2011/10/16/sybil_exposed_memory_lies_and_therapy/ ,
---, National Association for Self-Esteem, http://www.self-esteem-nase.org/,
Walt, Stephen, “The Myth of American Exceptionalism”, Foreign Policy, November 2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/11/the_myth_of_american_exceptionalism,