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Saturday, April 30, 2011


Arrogance is perceived as a negative quality because it is associated with
A lack of courtesy to others.
The possibility that arrogance is a cover for insecurities.
A lack of self-awareness. I could be arrogant because I have a PhD, but everyone I work with does too!
Narcissism. Excessive self-involvement.
A lack of intellectual humility. An arrogant person cannot recognize that s/he may be wrong.

Yet some quality resembling arrogance is also necessary for the following reasons:
Confidence. You have to project a sense of confidence, that you know what you are talking about. Making apologies for oneself or being too self-deprecating can backfire. I remember dumbshit students taking my profession of ignorance about something at face value. I've seen people apologize first, then give a bad presentation. When you say, "I don't have these ideas very well developed yet," and you really don't, then people will be sitting there thinking, "You are right, you don't."
Honesty about one's capabilities and accomplishments. Look at your cv as though it belonged to somebody else. If you are impressed by what you see, then you should be impressed with yourself.
Ambition. It is hard to be ambitious if you are too afraid of being arrogant.

Also, you have to distrust the motives of people who call you arrogant. Are they jealous? Are they trying to hold you back or put you down? When I published in Insula as an Assistant Professor, a senior colleague, instead of congratulating me and encouraging me to take legitimate pride, made a snarky remark about my "swelled head."

So narcissism and rudeness, bad. Ambition, legitimate pride in real accomplishments, good. False humility and apologetic discourse, bad. Intellectual humility about being wrong, good.


Anonymous said...

Competence and confidence aren't arrogance, but many feel they are.

My father is arrogant. He really believes he is superior to others and that they have nothing to say to him. He makes exceptions for certain people he adores in a slavish way. And, when it is pointed out to him that something has got to be seen in a more matizad@ way, he goes into this mode of exagerrated self abasement where he claims to be "really dumb." That is to say, he withdraws from any conversation where he cannot be worshipped and have his gods worshipped.

That is arrogance and I have met a few other people like that. Fortunately, many are not.

Andrew Shields said...

There's the standard line of "I'm not sure but" that precedes so many student comments in class discussions. I get really tired of it and would prefer some more confidence in their own perspectives!

Jonathan said...

Yes. One girl in my class prefaces every single comment with "posiblemente..."