December 6

The Affliction of Arrogance

December 6, 2017

Personal Growth

Miriam was annoyed at everything. People didn’t understand her. They didn’t help her feel better when she was sad or angry. Circumstances combined against her. When I didn’t say anything for several minutes—not that she paused long enough for anyone else to speak—she said, “So, what do you think?”

“You think your wounds and your pain are special,” I said. “Everybody is wounded. Everybody has pain, but you think your pain is special, so the earth should stop turning on its axis until your pain is addressed.”

“That’s not true.”

“Okay.” Her statement made it quite clear that she wasn’t willing to listen to what I was saying, so I saw no reason to argue with her.

Then she repeated almost everything she had said to that point, believing that repetition makes something truer—a belief strongly held by most people. When she paused, I repeated what I had said but added, “You don’t really care about the pain of others. There’s a powerful arrogance to the single-minded focus you have on your own pain.”

“You’re wrong,” she said, not realizing that her categorical denunciation of what I’d said was actually evidence of her arrogance.

“Maybe we’ll talk tomorrow,” I suggested, and our conversation concluded.

There is nothing that focuses the mind like pain. If you have any doubt about that, let me stab you in the leg with a fork, and you’ll notice that whatever you were previously doing or thinking or saying suddenly doesn’t matter. Your mind and body will be entirely focused on the pain caused by the fork I’m twisting in your leg.

That focus on ourselves—on what we need above what anybody else needs—has a name: selfishness. I wish you could hear me say that word—“selfish”—as I read it out loud. All our lives, that word has almost invariably been spoken with an accusing, attacking, and demeaning tone, but I’m not writing or reading it like that. When we’re in pain, we simply focus on ourselves, which is the very definition of selfishness. Selfishness is natural. If I haven’t eaten for days, and I come across a crust of bread, it’s natural that I would eat it without a thought. That selfishness is promoted by my pain and is entirely understandable.

When we elevate our pain over the discomfort of others, however—insisting that our pain is greater and therefore deserving of more immediate and thorough attention—then our selfishness becomes arrogance.

Arrogance is so common that we scarcely pay it any attention. But we must learn to recognize it before we can address and eliminate it. We are arrogant when:

  • We are impatient, which demonstrates that our needs take precedence over those of others.
  • We believe we have been wronged, which elevates our wounds to a place where they must be recognized—even revered—as well as corrected immediately.
  • We speak with any condescension, signifying our perception of occupying a position loftier than those around us.
  • We whine, which demonstrates a belief that our position is worse than that of others—a strange arrogance about our wounds, which are more “special” than those of others.
  • We argue, demonstrating a belief that our position is superior to those of others, who would be elevated by adopting our celestial code.

We’ve all been wounded. None of us knows completely the exact circumstances of anybody else. We lack the information or the wisdom to ever judge that our position is superior to anyone’s, so arrogance becomes not only unwise but foolish.

Any time you are tempted to feel arrogant, it is essential, even life saving, that you remind yourself of the Law of Choice and of the selfishness—the astonishing arrogance, actually—of believing that your choices are more important or better than those of others. 

When you truly believe that other people get to make their own choices—including those that are unwise or affect you in negative ways—you’re on the road to seeing your selfishness. As you rigorously examine yourself for all indication of arrogance, you can begin to choose a course of humility, learning, and loving—qualities which always lead to the happiness you seek.

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