Seeping Arrogance

No one simply decides to be arrogant, even though the obnoxious nature of some may convince us that such a deliberate decision was taken at some point. Arrogance is one of those under estimated traits that contaminate our character as we progress in our efforts for success in this life. The more correct answers we have for the struggles of others, or for that matter the assistance we are able to render to those less fortunate, or even the spirituality that we manage to garner in our efforts to be detached from worldliness, all lead us a step closer to growing pompous about our achievements or the value that we believe we add to the lives of others.

Having anything to share is a step towards arrogance, especially if the motivation to share it is forgotten. I find myself grappling with what was once, in the not too distant past, easy concepts and principles to apply in my life. Being patient with those less grounded, or having a kind word to follow some tough love used to be easy. But this year has seen all that and more being taken for granted as I found myself immersed regularly into situations where my willingness to contribute was being abused, and my due rewards were being dismissed or denied. Rewards are not always material in nature. Sometimes it can be as simple as seeing our contribution appreciated, implemented, or shared further. Our egos require such fickle affirmation otherwise it becomes that much more difficult to subdue. 

At some point, it becomes easy, and understandably so, to justify why endless sacrifice is not a worthy strategy to bring about the change we wish to see around us. A touch of arrogance, or perhaps narcissism is needed to maintain a balance of sanity. That touch relates to the belief that we indeed have something of value to share. Some could argue that this is confidence and generosity of spirit, rather than arrogance, but if we consider that such a notion is based on how we perceive our self worth, then I could easily counter argue that it is a belief that we have regarding our skill or attribute being superior to that of another. Arrogance follows very closely behind such a belief. The difficulty lies in recognising what value we are capable of contributing so that we give back to the society from which we took, versus assuming that the level of success we achieved was exclusively a result of our own efforts. Dismissing both and believing that we have nothing of value to contribute is an exercise in ingratitude, and an unhealthy ego, which in this context would be the antithesis of arrogance but equally destructive. And of course is the leading cause of depression and anxiety. 

If I look at someone and wish that they were more like me because I think that I’ve achieved something noble or impressive that others will admire, then I’m simply feeding my ego by seeking opportunity to validate the value that I have placed on my own achievements. The more grateful recipients I find for my contributions, the more superior my contribution can be perceived, by others and myself.

However, the fact that arrogance is largely a perceived trait rather than a practiced one adds its own complexity to the debate. As just one example, I can’t count the number of times when I was perceived and accused of being arrogant simply because I chose to actively resist common wisdom. For me, it was an attempt at convincing others to reconsider something that I believed was flawed even though they believed that it was a widely accepted truth. I felt a need to resist the common thinking because accepting it would not only compromise my principles about not following blindly, but also my desire to improve on almost anything and everything that I encounter. Of course to them, I was simply being argumentative because they assumed that my motivation for such a challenge was driven by a need to be right, or a need to be different.

This makes me wonder if arrogance is ever truly arrogance in intent, or is it in fact a reflection of the arrogant nature of the one observing the so-called grand behavior? I’ve previously stated that arrogance is a defence mechanism. It’s a tool employed to distract attention away from a weakness or vulnerability, or to demand significance when we feel threatened. But within the context of this discussion, it’s that weakness it vulnerability on the part of the ones passing the judgement of arrogance, or on the part of the one perceived as being arrogant? I’m inclined to believe that it is the former.

Perhaps arrogance is never one sided? Perhaps it only comes into play when the observer refuses to look beyond the obvious in order to understand what is driving the apparently arrogant behaviour so that we first seek to understand before we judge, rather than assuming that we’re better without even trying? 

Those Damned Assumptions

I have a reputation of making people feel awkward, or as some would describe it, infuriated (stop nodding so feverishly, you may lose your balance!). I take a particular pride in knowing that I am viewed this way, because it merely cements my views about the nature of the average Joe that I meet on a daily basis. This came to the fore a few weeks ago in a discussion that I had with a colleague which subsequently spilled online as well.

I often feel compelled to challenge incorrect assumptions, or to persist in a point that I believe is important until I am certain that I have reached a point of mutual understanding, or at the least, am able to walk away knowing that I tried. So I choose my battles, but I also choose more battles than most (I can see you nodding again!). On this one occasion, I spent a fair amount of time trying to get someone to understand why the point that they were making was actually contrary to what they were trying to achieve. And so I kept asking probing questions and prompting them to consider an alternate perspective so that they may realise what it is that they were doing.

Some in the room came to me afterwards and suggested that I really shouldn’t bother. Some assumed that I was being argumentative or just simply difficult (stop it already!). Meanwhile, the truth was far from both of those assumptions. While I speak for myself right now, I suspect that many others may be able to relate to what I am about to share.

When I engage with anyone on any subject, my default assumption is that they are capable of processing the concepts and themes that I feel passionately about. As the discussion progresses, if I see that they’re not grasping my point, I assume that I’m either not explaining myself well enough, or they’re distracted by a bias that is not directly relevant to what I am trying to share with them. My knee-jerk reaction to this is to try to clarify my point so that they may be able to share in the value of what I think is important. In short, I assume we’re at the same level of understanding, but are experiencing a communication gap.

Unfortunately, the most common assumption in such a situation, especially by those with a low self-esteem, is that my efforts to attain clarity is in fact an attempt to either make them look stupid, or expose how stupid they really are. At no point do they consider that perhaps I simply assumed that their level of understanding was the same as mine, rather than me assuming that they’re beneath me. Their perceptions of themselves informed their observations of me, and while they thought they were judging me, they were in fact judging themselves.

Of course, if  I were to point this out to them (as I do on occasion, often just for fun!) they would feel justified in their views about my supposed arrogance, or condescension. The turning point in my life regarding my self-worth was when I realised this troublesome truth about people. From that point on, I found it easier to rise above the unqualified criticisms leveled against me, and instead, continued to focus on the passion that I had about the value that I wanted to realise for me and for others. Often, this resulted in the offended party recognising the point I originally tried to make, but only after they had enough time to get over their own insecurities about the interaction. For this reason, I almost always do my best to allow for a graceful exit from such contentious discussions.

The times that I don’t allow for a graceful exit are the times when the offending moron is pretty much a confirmed bully who just won’t back down. That’s when my favourite philosophy kicks in. Treat an arrogant person with arrogance so that they may taste humility.

Back to the topic at hand. Assumptions are made all the time. Some are informed, most are not. Another poor assumption on my part when I originally started contemplating writing books on leadership and mentoring others at the office to take leadership roles in their areas of influence was that in doing so, I may work myself into a position of irrelevance. In other words, like the fickle-minded, I thought that I was working myself out of a job. You know, that scarcity mentality thing where we assume that the success of others will rob us of opportunities for our own success? Well, fortunately I snapped out of that mindset soon thereafter when I realised that leadership is so rare because conviction is lacking in most people.

In general, people want to be associated with greatness, not because they want to be great, but because they want to be with the crowd that is also associated with such greatness. One of the important lessons I learnt in the process is that despite giving someone the golden handbook of how to achieve greatness, and giving then the opportunity and environment in which to achieve it, their deeply ingrained insecurities will prevent them from embracing the opportunity. Everyone wants to be liked, or popular, or part of a group. Except for a few that see the futility in that, and decide to forge their own path in life. They don’t necessarily set out to be leaders. In fact, I would go as far as saying that leadership finds them, while everyone else tries to mimic the assumed journey of the new leader in the hope that they will achieve the same.

People that set out to become leaders usually lack authenticity. Authenticity is by far the most important leadership trait ever. In the absence of it, you simply have authority and resources at your disposal, but will fail to genuinely influence or inspire others, except for those that aspire to similar levels of materialism. Perhaps this is why we have the leadership void that we have in this world. Perhaps this is why the worst of us has truly become the leaders of us, because we celebrate the wrong attributes, and dismiss the detractors that challenge the status quo.

We make assumptions negatively about others when we assume that their flaws are the same as our own, while not being willing to acknowledge or own our own flaws. Criticism that has little to no constructive basis behind it simply feeds the ego. It does not encourage growth, nor does it forge new avenues of understanding. When someone takes the time to extend their engagement with you about a topic that they are passionate about, recognise their passion before assuming that they’re simply being arrogant. The biggest mistake most people make is that they fail to recognise the difference between passion and emotion, and are too ready to dismiss a passionate soul as an emotional being. That is the burden on society of a weak mind. It degrades sincerity in favour of popularity. And that is how society ends up being something that everyone wants to criticise, but no one wants to acknowledge being an integral part of it.

Perfectly Distracted 

There was a time when I judged the character of others by the number of times they would use terms like existential, nihilism, fatalism, and the like. Often, the words of Einstein echoes in my head reminding me that if I can’t explain it simply enough, it’s because I don’t understand it well enough. And that’s how I viewed those pretentious ones that used large words to explain simple concepts of hope, struggle, or despair.

One of my challenges in life has been my inability to articulate my thoughts in ways that made it relatable to others. From a young age I was recognised as the kid on a different wavelength. I was the one the bullies generally ignored because my response was unpredictable, while they picked on the ones that were somewhat ordinary, because ordinary, for all its merits, is predictable.

Without any fanfare or deliberate effort, I found myself trying to polish my grasp of the English language so that my thoughts would tumble out of my mouth or keyboard with at least a vague similarity to what was going on in my head. The more coherent I sounded, the more confident I grew, and seemingly, the more I found that people were willing to interact with me. I guess people generally do avoid the unpredictable or misunderstood.

The buoyancy I felt from these simple little milestones of inclusion pushed me to hone my skills further. My innate need to simplify a complicated life contributed to this by driving me towards reducing the effort needed to achieve simple outcomes. After all, why do in ten steps what can be done in two? It would be such a waste of energy to continue the ten step way.

Equally so, I found myself growing more succinct, or as some would assume, terse in the way in which I expressed myself. To me, I was improving my skill for clear communication without being flowery or longwinded about it, but for everyone else, I was cocky and presumptuous because I apparently didn’t have the patience to work through things with them or explain myself properly. What I saw as saving them the monotony of a longwinded explanation, they saw as an arrogance on my part for assuming that they’re not worthy of such an explanation. Or worse, they assumed that I found joy in making them look stupid.

And that’s how I’ve found efforts at effective communication can become defective communication. An innocent assumption on my part which suggested that others had a similar level of understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand, meant that I didn’t see my knowledge as superior. However, that was automatically misconstrued by others as me being arrogant and aloof. Of course, every assumption we make, correct or incorrect, is a reflection of how we view ourselves relative to what is going on around us, but that was hardly an effective point to make in such a situation. Although I did make it from time to time, depending on how keen I was to annoy the audience I was with.

The point is, it’s easy to be distracted by our pursuit of perfection in any field that we’re passionate about, to the point where the purpose of the pursuit is forgotten, and all that remains is our sights on perfection. Most often, we seek to perfect in order to be more effective at achieving something, but along the way we become distracted by how our perfection is perceived and lose sight of what we set out to achieve in the first place.

When that happens, perfectionism takes centre stage and purpose or meaning becomes a secondary consideration. I think it’s possible to achieve perfection relative to purpose, although true perfection is unattainable. There is merit and virtue in pursuing perfection, but both are undermined when the purpose or value of such efforts are discarded in favour of being perceived as perfect in that regard. Our efforts, if left unchecked, will result in us allowing our proficiency of practice at what we’re pursuing to define us, rather than remembering that our proficiency was intended to enable us to define something else in a more valuable way.

Life is lost in moments of distraction, but we grow distracted in moments of pursuing a better life. Being surrounded by a social standard grounded in escapism doesn’t help either. And labeling people that use big words without appreciating why they choose to communicate the way they do reflects a superficiality and insecurity on our part, more than it does on theirs.

A Legacy of Beauty

Reminiscing about childhood is a popular pastime. Idyllic recollections of a life that never truly was is bolstered by time that is kind to us . It allows us to forget the harrowing details as we protect our fragile souls from the harsh reality of life. Those that treated us harshly often became a memory of those who cared, especially when their harshness was all we had access to. We become captives of the weakness of brutes because our submission is the only significance that they may feel in life. I sometimes wonder how many realise that their self-worth is based on their ability to subdue others.

Time creeps by, as time tends to, while I find the present moment to pale in comparison to my selective recollections of a childhood that never was. Moments of peace that were in fact moments of isolation, and collective laughter that was often exclusive by nature. I speak of this as if it’s my own, but the incomplete smiles around me suggest that it is a shared reality that is often denied.

As time morphs the pain into beauty it also morphs the beasts into angels. Those that manipulate the vulnerable suddenly appear as the downtrodden when their loss of control is lamented as a betrayal of love or affection. I sit with morbid amazement as I watch kids who are barely teens reminiscing about childhood and the wonderment that went with it as if it’s a long lost part of their lives, and I feel sad. The sadness deepens when I witness how their recollections embellish events to make it more wholesome or inclusive than it really was. The disease of the adults appears to have transcended a generation that used to be symbols of hope. Those symbols of hope are quickly becoming reminders of despair instead.

The torch bearers have handed over the soot but retained the flames that should have been passed on as generational wisdom to guide the next. The next appear comfortable to accept the association with the soot as a gift of love while not noticing it is the self-love of their captors and not the love of their captors for them. That distorted reality shapes a distorted world that they set out to change, not realising that their efforts to change it merely taint it.

I looked across the bathroom at the mirror from behind the shower door and suddenly realised how many would see the mirror as foggy while ignoring the steamed door in front of them. Those that are living an assumption of reality would seek to clean the mirror, while those that embrace reality will open the door.

We all need to believe that our contribution, even if not appreciated, is a wholesome one. When we are deliberately offensive or destructive, we convince ourselves that it is needed to restore balance. When it works out in our favour, we believe we were right, and when it doesn’t, we believe we were wronged. The selective views we nurtured through life in our efforts to establish our significance and self-worth betray us with such subtlety that it leaves us convinced that we’re the misunderstood or unappreciated while everyone else is self-indulgent and ungrateful of our efforts to uplift them. Accountability rarely features for the distracted ones because it erodes the fantasy that has become their reality.

Our collective subscription to such distraction leaves us sympathetic towards this feeble state in which we find them. If they weren’t echoing our own weaknesses so loudly, perhaps we would be able to see beyond their feigned sincerity and disrupt the fantasy just enough for reality to peep through. But that would rob us of our legacy of beauty that we have to believe is our contribution to this world. Without it, we become that which we despise, so we find kindred souls that are equally tainted so that we are secure in the fact that any effort on their part to expose our weakness will be rendered incredible simply because the kettle cannot call the teapot black. In there lies weakness in numbers.

[I set out challenging myself to write a post about something beautiful and uplifting. My alternate view of reality insists that I achieved it, because if anyone sees this as dark, they don’t appreciate my beauty that I offer so selflessly to the world. So the darkness must surely be in them and not in me.]

P.S. If you can understand this ramble, or worse, if you can relate to it, I question your sanity, and pray for your peace.

Once I Know Why…

I find it strange when I encounter people that are convinced that only once they understand why they made the mistakes they’ve made will they be able to move forward in life. Or worse still, why they were treated the way they were, only then will they expect or demand better. The irony in this is so blatant that it’s like not noticing the air you breathe until someone suffocates you. Funny how this thought process is equally suffocating and stifling to those that subscribe to it.

Why then do we insist on knowing why before we’re willing to take the next step? I mean, we wouldn’t be able to tell that we were treated badly or that we made mistakes unless we knew the opposing truth to it, right? In other words, the moment I know that I want or deserve something better, it means I know what I don’t want. Again a blatantly obvious truth that most miss. So the question then arises as to why it is that we choose not to act on this knowledge?

Some of it I think stems from a social conditioning that suggests that if you didn’t come up with the answers when you were sent to your room to reflect on your bad behavior, then you remain in the naughty corner until you do. That might work until you reach the age of independent thought, but the moment that age is reached, that excuse or crutch falls away. As usual, to best demonstrate a point we must take it to an extreme, so let’s consider the following scenario.

If I place my hand on a hot stove, I know I will burn. I also know that in future I don’t want to burn, unless you’re a twisted sadist, in which case your problem is much bigger than this. Actually not, but let’s chat about that another day. Anyway, so it doesn’t make sense for me to continue to place my hand on that hot stove simply because I am not yet fully familiar with the mechanics or chemistry that causes such burn to happen. So in future, I will either use tools or apparel that will prevent me from burning because I still need that hot stove, or I will find a safer means to heat my food, like a microwave perhaps.

Simple analogy, but apparently not so simple to implement. I think the difference between this and life is also simple. We don’t ever have hope that the hot stove will be able to heat our food if kept cool. So we have no expectation of the nature of the stove to change, or the need for heat to be different. So I guess we could either choose to eat cold or uncooked food, which is distinctly unpleasant at most times, or we adapt our approach to get what we want without harming ourselves in the process. Imagine what it would be like if the food thought it was unworthy of being heated when the stove was cold? Or maybe it would taste better if only the stove would heat it without getting so hot? Or maybe the stove could see how beautiful all the little ingredients were that made the food such a wholesome meal and it would heat it more gently and appreciate each grain of salt and each curry leaf for the struggle they went through to get there?

Seriously though, we get caught in a cycle that causes us to resent ourselves for not being worthy of better, of hoping that the aggressor would be kinder because we can absolutely see with total conviction how capable they are of such kindness and how beautiful they will be in the process, and most importantly, we’re afraid that if we let go, we may not get anything better or at all to replace it.

It all comes down to self-worth. If we don’t believe we’re worth more, we’ll find reasons to resist making the changes we need to make because we’re unlikely to reach the point when enough is enough. At some point we became convinced that unless we have the answers for the past, we cannot progress into the future. What rubbish! The moment we know better from worse, we can make a choice for better. The moment we allow ourselves to experience better, we’ll automatically realise why worse was not good enough. All we need is to know what is preferred, but not always do we need to know why it is preferred.

The way forward is really simple, but requires courage. Do the right thing for the right reason at the right time and everything will be just fine. Stop. That conversation you just started in your head about how do you know when it’s the right time, or what the right reason is, etc., just stop it. That is the circular drivel that keeps you grounded in the past. Focus on the present. And that means that you don’t focus on how you’re perceived, because how you’re perceived requires a projection into the future based on your past experiences, which means you are not present. So let’s try again, focus on the present. Yes, the moment in which you are acting or making a decision to act. In that moment know what you’re feeling and know what outcome you desire. If your decision contributes towards that desired outcome, do it. If not, who are you trying to appease, and are they important enough to appease?

I suspect you just started another internal conversation about what if you see their importance and that you’re hoping that by doing what you think you need to do they may just realise how important they are and therefore it makes it important to appease them…exhausting, isn’t it? It’s a simple process to achieve better, but self-doubt which is spawned by a low self-worth makes it seem impossible.

You don’t always have to know why. You just have to know why not. Start there. The rest will follow. Let a stove be a stove and stop hoping for it to be something else.