“Truly great men and women are never terrifying. Their humility puts you at ease” (Elizabeth Goudge)

Comedian Groucho Marx reported one day that he had a nurse who was so arrogant about her beauty that, when she took a man’s pulse, she always subtracted ten points to compensate for what her looks did to his heart rate. Indeed, humility can be elusive. Though generous doses of self-confidence and high self-esteem are healthy personality traits, there is a point when they cease to be virtues, that moment when a person feels more important than another, or above reproach and learning. Stephen R Covey, of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, notes: “It is the point when someone boasts in ways that can, in fact, drop another’s pulse rate. Humility, on the other hand, breeds growth and friendship”.

Arrogance is the “quality” of being unpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people. A psychology research team, led by Professor Nelson Cowan from the University of Missouri, USA, found very little modern research on arrogance, so set about rectifying this. In their subsequent research, they found that everyone seems to have some degree of arrogance, so they suggested a way to classify the different levels of arrogance a person could exhibit. The three levels are:

  1. Individual arrogance – an inflated opinion of one’s own abilities, traits, or accomplishments compared to the truth
  2. Comparative arrogance – an inflated ranking of one’s own abilities, traits, or accomplishments compared to other people
  3. Antagonistic arrogance – the denigration of others based on an assumption of superiority

All three of these levels can lead to bragging, elevating oneself above others, an obsession with caring about what others think of one, a high degree of competitiveness and frequently putting others down. This type of behaviour forces wedges in relationships, creates uncertainty in communication and depletes trust. Hanan Parvez, writing for PsychMechanics, notes four possible reasons behind an arrogant person’s behaviour:

  1. You’ve done great things in life – achieving things that your peers couldn’t achieve or doing something extraordinary that others couldn’t do. When you compare yourself to others who haven’t accomplished nearly as much as you have, you tend to look down on them.
  2. You’ve done nothing great in life – you are an under-achiever and so have a need to appear more worthy to gain the acceptance of others. Knowing subconsciously that you self-worth is low, instead of growing self-esteem healthily through achievement, you choose a strategy to trick others into thinking you are worthy.
  3. You need a defence mechanism – trying to protect your ego and self-worth, you behave arrogantly to hide insecurity, inferiority and a lack of confidence. Since you already know that you are inferior, you are fearful that others will realise this and not accept you. You are so sure that others will reject you – so you show rejection first before they get a chance to show it to you and hurt you.
  4. You want attention – you care a lot about others’ approval. Arrogance may result from trying to gain attention because no other way of gaining attention has worked for you.

Combating arrogance is no easy task as it requires deep work internally – on your psyche, your self-image and self-esteem. Many are not prepared to do this work, even though offered help, and they remain dysfunctional and push others away. This is unhealthy. As Sam Walton notes: “It is unhealthy to marinate in your own press clippings”. The development of your self-esteem and the cultivation of humility is an ongoing battle, but you should never grow tired of fighting it. Although humility is not a tangible commodity, we know it when we see it and feel it when we hear it.

Cultivate humility – humility is the key that unlocks our minds to learning from others and unlocks our hearts to see and meet need in others. Humility breeds growth, friendship and respect. It puts others at ease.

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