I was recently told that I’m arrogant. Never mind the circumstances, except to say that, for a variety of reasons, regardless of what I actually think, circumstances demanded that I accept the premise, and apologize for my arrogance.
My gut response, though, was, “I’m not arrogant. I’m confident. And sometimes, confidence is misread, particularly by the insecure, as arrogance.” And another thing: the context in which this happened is a context in which I, as a straight man, am a distinct minority. The hierarchy is overwhelmingly female, and straight men are few and far between. So there’s that, too.
Am I arrogant? Historically, in the world of work, I was humble, self-effacing, ego-less. I also was quite successful. But a big part of my success was an almost complete lack of arrogance. I couldn’t have enjoyed the success I did had I been arrogant. And I used to joke that having no ego was my secret weapon.
But even as I was ego-less at work, among friends and family I might well have been arrogant. Like many men, I speak in “the boy voice” – that declarative, confident way many men speak, ending sentences with downward inflection, leaving no room for disagreement. The opposite of girlish “up-talking.”
And I’m opinionated, to be sure. Although I agree with the Buddha that “people with opinions just go around bothering each other,” (not, apparently, an exact quote, but close enough), this doesn’t stop me from having opinions. Rather, I like to imagine it stops me from clinging to them, grasping at them, annoying others with them. I try to hold my opinions gently, like delicate flowers, rather than clasping tightly onto them. Sometimes, I even succeed.
In recent years, I like to think I’ve let go some of that arrogance, but I definitely still speak with the boy voice. (About three weeks ago, I began a conscious initiative to ask more questions and make fewer statements.)
So anyway, I looked up the words. In a real dictionary. Printed on paper. The crucial aspect of the definition of “arrogance” (in M-W) is “an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people; an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”
Now – I don’t believe that I’m better. I believe that I’m good and smart. And I believe that, in an entirely undifferentiated and banal way, I’m important (we’re all equally important, I believe). But that comparison thing, I just don’t identify with it. The second thing – the “attitude of superiority” – well, that’s more subjective, I suppose. It’s certainly true that some might imagine I have an attitude of superiority. (Note: this is different than my agreeing with that.)
Now, let’s turn to “confidence.” My sense, before I looked up the words, was that “confident” describes me, and that “arrogant” doesn’t. M-W says “confidence” is “a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something; a feeling or belief that someone or something is good or has the ability to succeed at something; the feeling of being certain that something will happen or that something is true.” They continue, it is “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; …the quality or state of being certain : certitude <they had every confidence of success>.”
Yup. This seems a lot more like me.
Glad we’ve straightened that out. Here.
But wish me luck in the face of the legions that disagree, that say that I’m arrogant.