he wasn’t the first person to call me arrogant, and he wouldn’t be the last.
it popped into my head today, years later, causing me to delve into some serious self-analysis. how do we define arrogance? what makes somebody arrogant? and do i really do that thing?
i think i’m pretty self-aware. i can easily rattle off some of my worst qualities to you: i’m selfish; i procrastinate; i’m kind of sloppy; i’m a worry-wart; i have hypochondriacal tendencies; i’m commitment-phobic; i really struggle with change. plus, in my personal life (though for some reason, not at all professionally), i’m virtually incapable of making a decision; i have been known to spend 30 minutes in a shampoo aisle trying to choose a brand.
but surely, self-awareness isn’t only knowing the worst parts of yourself. isn’t there something to be said for knowing the good stuff, too? everyone has things they excel at. everyone has a particular bag of tricks that they bring to the table.
the first accusation of arrogance that i really remember came during a rocky relationship. he practically spit the word at me; there was definite intent to wound. and while it didn’t exactly hurt me, it did make me think. the accusation came after a particularly heated disagreement (of which there were many) which ended with me saying something about being smart, having a good head on my shoulders, and being able to make up my own mind. he accused me of being arrogant because i thought i was smart.
i guess that deserves a little bit of background: the truth is, i’m smart. i do have a good head on my shoulders, and i feel lucky for it. i feel lucky that i have parents who encouraged me and bought me books and read to me since i was small, who sent me to good schools and supported my goals. i embraced reading and school and extra work – i studied hard, took honors classes, went to a great college.
i tried to clarify with him. “so let me get this straight: it doesn’t matter that my whole life, people have labeled me as smart. i’ve been raised to believe that i have a good head on my shoulders, and for the most part i’ve proved it. but for me to simply acknowledge it makes me arrogant?”
yep. that’s exactly what he thought.
i hadn’t bragged about anything. i wasn’t prideful about it. i didn’t say i was smarter than anyone else, him included. there was no sense of measuring myself against someone. it was simply me, observing a quality about myself.
another time, after a discussion with a coworker about proofreading: he said it was arrogant of me to say that i’m good at spelling and never use spell check.
but i am good at spelling! it’s actually a measurable thing!! why is it arrogant to know that about myself after years of having demonstrated it?
it seems like simply acknowledging any positive quality about yourself makes you arrogant. and that’s so disappointing. if that’s really the world we live in, how fundamentally sad and small of us. it seems like the world and the workplace and everywhere in between would be so much more positive if people were allowed or (gasp!) encouraged to recognize some of their positive qualities.
there’s a huge difference between that recognition and being a braggart or taking credit for things you shouldn’t. there’s a huge difference between knowing some of your better qualities, and that knowledge making you think you’re better than others. i’m not perfect, and i’ve totally been guilty of that at times. do i think i have a better sense of humor because i love things like arrested development and the league, rather than two and a half men or everybody loves raymond? sooooooo guilty. and i’m sure there are other places where i toe over that fine line between self-awareness and arrogance.
but it’s disheartening to think that you can’t ever say anything positive about yourself. does that mean we’re all doomed to this half-life place of waiting/wishing/hoping someone will say something good about you, because you’re too afraid to ever acknowledge it yourself? does this mean we all live in this space where self-deprecation, false modesty and fishing for compliments is the norm?
even if no one else will ever understand it, i’m happy that i am in a place where i know that there are good things about myself. it took me a while to feel comfortable in that place, and ending that rocky relationship was the biggest step toward self-awareness and happiness that i’ve ever taken. not because he was such a bad guy, but because i realized that the things he didn’t like about me were things i really valued about myself.
if that makes me an arrogant bastard, so be it. there’s a beer for that.