Posted by Mike
I’m inclined to think that there are two kinds of arrogance: the overt kind, which everyone can see, where some obnoxious person makes an ass of himself expressing his notions of superiority or putting down others that he considers less adequate in some way or another. But there is another kind of arrogance that is more subtle, and that I expect lots of us are guilty of. That arrogance consists of the ingrained notions that we have that somehow we are superior to others in some way. It could be in beliefs that we have learned, religious or political or otherwise, and it could be in competence, or knowledge, or alleged “sophistication,” or in power, or prestige, or wealth. It can be in social, cultural, racial, or nationalistic areas. !
I always like to get a clear picture of what we’re talking about, so am checking out the meaning in my trusty American Heritage Dictionary. It says, arrogance is the quality of state of being arrogant, and arrogant is being “overly convinced of one’s own importance; overbearingly proud, haughty, and characterized by or arising from haughty self-importance.” The Latin origin of the word relates to assuming for oneself without right or justification. The New Oxford American Dictionary adds “having or revealing and exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities: he’s arrogant and opinionated/ a typically arrogant assumption.” The New Oxford makes a very important distinction. And that is that the individual can have or reveal the attitude in his or her behavior. I’m suggesting here that it’s the having the attitudes that we’re talking about and utilizing them, generally unconsciously in our thinking and feeling, that is the main problem here. Let’s have a little test!
First take the quiz below yourself. Then ask a couple of family members and friends to answer these questions YES OR NO ABOUT YOU about you. Do I believe that I live in the country that has the best kind of government, and that other governments should emulate what we have? Do I believe that I have the true religion; that people who believe, in religious matters, something else are unfortunately misguided and in need of bringing in to the fold? Do I believe that my perspectives, values, and opinions regarding raising children, relating to strangers, in sexual and moral matters, regarding money, in politics and government, about how the younger generation is behaving, etc., are all the “correct” way to think and that the others are unfortunately misguided and have it all wrong?
If the answers to some or all of the questions on the above “test” are yes, then I think we have something we need to talk about! Now you may not feel or believe that you have some of this stuff called arrogance. I will say that I do; I think it’s endemic when you live in a society. Did your friends who took the test from your perspective reveal assumptions or arrogance in you that you did not realize? You may or may not agree with their responses, but they may be worth considering.
We all learn, almost osmotically, attitudes, perspectives, prejudices from our society and cultures. It’s just part of living in a group or society, in that we tend to adopt the attitudes and values that surround us. How many white Southerners during the antebellum period opposed slavery? Likely very few. How many white Southerners from 1870 to 1965 were uncomfortable with how the institution of segregation in the South made a mockery of the fruits of the Civil War? How many Christians believe that there might be something to Judaism, or Hinduism, or Buddhism? Or vice versa? We could talk about the German peoples, and their attitudes prior to World War II. Every society and culture would have its examples. We adopt the mold of values and attitudes pretty much that our culture establishes for us. That’s not always necessarily bad; but it is just the way that it is. In a primitive tribal society it wouldn’t have even occurred to a member that maybe his (or her) tribe could have some particular way of thinking wrong, and that the tribe across the river might have it right! Humans in tribal groups, in societies and cultures in general don’t think that way – because it’s not adaptive. That kind of thinking would lead to social disruption. And the way humans developed, in small groups that very much needed close social cohesion and cooperation to survive, questioning the group’s values wasn’t adaptive and had little to no survival value.
Things not only are different now, but they have to be different. In the United States in this 2009, if you look around you, you will see that we have actually become multicultural. In a variety of ways, we are more than ever a mixed society. In addition to being multicultural, we each have an incredibly vast and varied access to information that can offer us broadening perspectives in our world view. The arrogance that is reflected from those more hidden attitudes and values mentioned above still exists in each of us. Our hope can be that over time as we continue to be exposed to perspectives that differ from ours and become more comfortable with and even honor diversity, our own individual arrogance in these areas will be tempered. In the present, however, it is incumbent upon each of us to become more aware of our unwarranted attitudes of superiority and our prejudices based upon the groups that we identify with, to make that wonderful discovery that we truly have no need to “be better than” anyone – in any area – to be worthwhile and fulfilled persons ourselves.
The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their most common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.
– Stephen Jay Gould