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Home > Secteur-English > General > Arrogance and self-respect. By Laurence Thomas

Arrogance and self-respect. By Laurence Thomas

The difference between arrogance and self-respect is subtle, profound, and ever so important. In a perfect world, everyone would have self-respect, whereas no one would be arrogant. To have self-respect is to grasp fully that one has a most significant measure of moral worth simple in virtue of the fact that one is a human being. To state the obvious, every self-respecting person believes that she or he ought to be treated fairly. But then by parity of reasoning, it is also the case that every self-respecting person believes that all other human beings ought to be treated fairly.

In a like manner, every self-respecting person is motivated to perform simple acts of decency on behalf of another when (a) that other person is in need of a simple act of assistance and (b) offering that assistance would not in any way inconvenience the person offering the assistance ; nor would offering the assistance require some major expense on the part of the person offering the assistance. A classic example of a simple act of kindness would be that of entirely healthy person travelling with only a very light shoulder bag giving up her or his seat on a crowded bus or metro car to a feeble elderly person who boards the vehicle.

Significantly, there is absolutely nothing about the nature of having self-respect that requires a person to make major sacrifices in order to help others, although a person with self-respect will typically be moved to offer some form of assistance. A very important truth is that having self-respect does not entail being profoundly altruistic. Not being tremendously altruistic does not entail being morally callous ; nor the other way around.

Last, but not least, although a person with self-respect undoubtedly has a clear sense of both her intellectual and financial wherewithal, a self-respecting person has no desire whatsoever to make a point of calling to just how well off she or he is. And this last point directly brings us to what is characteristic of an arrogant person.

An arrogant person is one who is forever calling attention to something about herself or himself in virtue of what she or he is clearly superior to others. To take a simple example, an arrogant person will find a way to mention that she or he owns a Mercedes even if the conservation is only about which airline has the best service to China has. To take another example, an arrogant person with tremendous academic credentials will find a way to mention her academic credentials even if the conservation is about none other than whether it is worth seeing the movie “Sophie’s Choice”.

Now, a quite interesting fact is that people who are often lacking in self-respect will often make that assumption that an individual is arrogant merely because the individual mentioned a quite positive fact about herself or himself that was absolutely crucial to understanding what she or he said. For example, suppose that Sara and Naomi (who are perfect strangers to one another) strike up a conversation at the airport and Sarah asks Naomi “From where did you just fly in ?” Naomi responds with “Frankfurt” ; and Sarah asks “Is this your first trip to Frankfurt”. Alas, Naomi responds with “No, I live in both countries ; and so travel I back-and-forth between them on a regular basis”. Well, with that remark by Naomi, the conclusion that Sarah draws is that Naomi is one arrogant wench. Clearly, it is Sarah who has a problem here ; for Naomi’s remark about living in both countries is simply a way of making sense of the claim that the trip to Frankfurt was not her first one.

To be sure, Naomi could simply have said “No, I have gone back and forth to Frankfurt on several occasions”. But if Sarah could not handle the claim that Naomi lives in both countries, then there is no reason whatsoever to think that Sarah would been able to handle the claim that Naomi has gone back and forth on several occasions. And it will be remembered that it was Sarah who asked Naomi “Is this your first time to Frankfurt ?” Clearly, a person who lives in both Frankfurt and the United States is not likely to be wallowing in poverty. The same holds for a person who has gone back on several occasions (military personnel aside). On the one hand, then, what we have here is not some horrendous display of arrogance on the part of Naomi. On the other hand, though, we have considerable insecurity on the part of Sarah who opened that conversational door by asking “Is this your first time to Frankfurt ?” Accordingly, we can conclude that Sarah’s measure of self-respect is not at all what it should be. .

Think about it : It makes no sense whatsoever for a person with a full measure of self-respect, who asked the question that Sarah asked Naomi, to be in anyway threatened by Naomi’s response.

As one can surely imagine, I want to say that no one with a full measure of self-respect who asked the question would be threatened by Naomi’s response. And it goes without saying that if Naomi has a full measure of self-respect, she would not have simply volunteered the information about travelling back and forth between the U.S. and Frankfurt ; for that would have been tantamount to showing-off. And people with self-respect are not given to boasting.

To be sure, the line between showing-off and saying what is appropriate can be a thin one. However, it is also the case that if a person has a full measure of self-respect, it will typically be quite apparent whether a person has clearly said more than she or he needed to say in order to answer the question that was asked of her or him, where the additional remarks only to serve to reveal the quite impressive standing that the person has.

I shall always remember the occasion when I approached an elderly black man who was on the second-floor of Marshall Square Mall. He was doing some stuff on his laptop. I thought that he was a professor and approached him with the following question “Sir, what Department are you in ?” Much to my surprise, he was an older guy going back to school. But guess what ? His follow-up question made it clear that he thought the exact same thing was true of me. So I responded as follows : “Sir, I am a very lucky person. I was able to get my Ph.D. ; and now I teach at Syracuse University”. I said nothing else about my career ; and what I got in return was not a sense of what kind of nonsense is the guy telling me, but a tremendous smile of admiration. My response was entirely consistent with my maintaining my self-respect and equally consistent with my being ever so mindful of the self-respect of the elderly man. To state the obvious, maintaining my career in the scenario just described did not at all require going into details about my professional life. Indeed, it almost never does.

I shall conclude with a very poignant observation. Nothing anchors self-respect in a person’s life like parental love. Individually or jointly : No amount of gadgets given to a child and no amount of money given to a child will be anywhere near the equal of parental love in anchoring self-respect in a child’s life. Losing sight of this truth will increasingly render human beings the very handmaiden of evil.

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