Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Difference between Pride and Arrogance

Portrait of Louis XIV around 1670
Louis le Grand

There are certain words that have a hard time shedding off their negative connotations. For example, the word “stubborn” or its equivalent “pig-headed” are generally not positive traits, yet they can easily turn into “steadfastness” or “personal integrity” if you look at the other side of the coin.

Certain words distinguish themselves by degrees, such as ambitious which has mainly positive connotations until it reaches its extreme point in terms of being overly ambitious. In Spanish, “ambicioso” is mainly a negative trait denoting a money-driven person who will stop short of almost nothing. What about the words “pride” and “arrogance”? How are they similar, what are their connotations, and in what ways are they negative?

We can easily classify “arrogance” as a negative trait. Arrogant people are condescending and believe themselves to be superior, whether in looks, knowledge, wisdom, or all of the above. It is also often part of an illusion – or rather delusion – about one's own characteristics; they are overblown and distort the positive traits one may have. 

Yet all this time, the main aim of the arrogant person is to overshadow others. In fact, it seems that arrogant people are always claiming that they are superior and in order to feel that way, they have the need for -- and often take delight in -- putting everyone else down. An acute or even obsessive sense of comparison is a marked by-product of the arrogant person.

Where does pride fit in? We can be proud of our own accomplishments, our country or friends and family. If you act and do well on a task or in a given situation, be it a job well done or good grades in a course, you have reason to be proud. The main direction of pride is toward within in contrast to arrogance which has a more outward focus.

But it can become a little tricky. When you are proud of your country are you not ipso facto comparing yourself to other countries and claiming to be superior? Is this really based on your own achievements? Are you not deluding yourself with pride in non-existent abilities? In other words, can you fully identify yourself with the given traits of your country? And how congruent are they with reality?

Pride can enter a dangerous terrain where it mixes with wishful thinking -- if not delusion -- and hence it may find itself in the unwanted neighborhood of arrogance. Pride then needs to be checked so that it does not turn into arrogance. There is nothing wrong with taking credit for your efforts and accomplishments. In fact, we do so quite rarely and not enough. The proverbial “tap on the shoulder” for a task well done can boost one's confidence and does no one harm in the process.

You can be proud and also realistic about a situation. I did well, but I could have done better. At the same time, doubts play a steady part in a humble person's outlook. And again, being proud of your efforts does not mean that you are better than others. It is not a judgement on a global quality. It simply means that you may be better at a given task or job. For example, it does not necessarily follow that being an excellent hockey player will also make you a great father (though it is possible). We must be careful not to mix our apples and oranges.

But can you be proud of who you are? That is a question that baffles me. Are you who you are based on your own choices? Can you fully take credit for your personality, for instance? In other words, can you take credit for something that may be out of your control, such as genes? To a certain extent you may have control over your looks. You can also make active use of your talents. But are you not essentially born with these traits?

In recent times, pride has been used to express confidence in one's different sexual orientation. After a long time of being oppressed and having to hide one's orientation, more and more people are “coming out” in the open and are affirming with confidence who they are. Unfortunately, we are still a million miles away from equality and full acceptance.

Yet regardless of your orientation, is this something you can be “proud” of, namely a conscious and deliberate action or accomplishment? To me, it seems rather a linguistic play on words but not a real effect. In this case, I would replace pride with courage. It is living out your own desires and being who you are without hiding an important part of your own nature, your self.

The pride one may feel is, in my opinion, about this type of courage, about standing up for who one is despite the consequences and strong opposition of mainstream society. It seems to me a contradiction to say that you are proud of who you are, your traits and qualities, whereas it seems easier to accept the fact that you are proud of what you have done with your life, your actions and accomplishments. But if you believe that nurture overruns nature, then you could be proud for both options.

In short, there is really nothing wrong with being proud. In some cases, it may lead to stubborn behavior, yet in others it can be about human rights and the right for dignity. You can be proud of your accomplishments and to an extent of your country, as long as you are realistic about it. At the same time, you must be careful and aware that pride does not turn into arrogance. In some cases, the line between the two may be paper-thin.


Vincent said...

These are very interesting comments about word usage in a changing culture, Arash.In such words, we try to signal what we approve and disapprove, e.g. pride good, arrogance bad. You could equally well speak of ego, egotism and all the nuances and disapproval involved there.

As an intriguing footnote to your essay, consider the use of "humble" and "humbled" by a person who's the centre of approving attention: A President being inaugurated, a film star receiving an award, etc. In terms of feeling pride, this is the pinnacle. It's a moment when the subject of all this adulation does not want to acknowledge the sense of omnipotence felt inside, for the crowd that put you there could just as easily turn against you.

So you say, "I feel humbled [by your adulation, which actually intoxicates me with pride]".

We would be surprised if a dictator addressing his subjects speaks of humility. He doesn't need it! His dictatorship is underpinned by force, not fickle adoration.

So we see from this that Presidents and celebrities fear being thought proud, for they owe everything to popular acclaim.

Vincent said...

I'd like to comment separately about your idea that pride should be based on achievement and not just being.

I'd like to argue the opposite case. There are many in this world whose path is made smoother by good looks or being tall. I heard yesterday how much money a short man had to pay, and what discomfort he had to endure, for medical and surgical interventions to add a little to his height. He said he had no regrets. It was all worth while to increase his stature--the very metaphor reveals how society makes its valuation!

What do you do if you are a dwarf? Well, like other disadvantaged groups, you try harder, but it's unfair on yourself to spend your whole life competing against the better-advantaged.

There's an alternative and that is simply to be proud of what you are - short, ugly, retarded, obnoxious etc. Proud because that's how God made you, if you will. Proud because you are all you've got, and pride helps you get through life, just as shame (for something you cannot help) undermines your standing (another metaphor which refers indirectly to height) and brings misery.

So, whereas before I suggested that humility was the fig-leaf we use to disguise our onrush of pride in front of adulation; in exactly the same way pride, in the sense I described above, is the mask we adopt to hide the sense of shame induced by other people's attitude to us.

Vincent said...

I meant also to mention the actor Peter Dinklage. In The Station Agent (2003) he portrays an aloof pride as his weapon of choice to add power to his cinematic presence - a weapon which serves him in the film's plot.

His height is 4'5" (1.35m).

Arashmania said...

Thank you very much for your detailed comments and footnotes, Vincent! And yes, you are absolutely right, dictators do not need to feel humbled, which shows us how we often manipulate others through the use of language while hiding our own arrogance.

The notion of shame is something I am very ashamed of in our world. It is terrible that people should feel and be made to feel ashamed about something they have no influence or say over, such as height and weight that you mention here.

I do believe a the same time that such "obstacles" can propel us to work harder and achieve more, which is one of the hidden benefits of feeling insecure!

A Mom said...

cool contents! happy to be here..keep up the good works!