Most of us will have come up against this kind of behaviour from others, especially if we’ve stood up for who we are and what we believe in. It can come from anyone at anytime. It can be a sudden and unexpected sharp little barb just slipped into a reply in a conversation making an attack on you personally, but going unnoticed by others, where you have to decide whether to challenge it or not. Or it can be a full blown reactive interchange where you openly challenge the arrogance and create an uncomfortable atmosphere where people say later on ‘You shouldn’t have risen to the bait. That’s what they wanted. You shouldn’t have made a show of yourself.’
Now I’ve experienced both of these scenarios because my radar for arrogance has been finely tuned from my late teens onwards. And just look at all these synonyms and meanings that encompass it:
haughtiness, conceit, hubris, self-importance, egotism, sense of superiority;
pomposity, high-handedness, swagger, boasting, bumptiousness, bluster, condescension, disdain, contempt, imperiousness;
pride, vanity, immodesty;
loftiness, lordliness, snobbishness, snobbery, superciliousness, smugness;
pretension, pretentiousness, affectation;
scorn, mocking, sneering, scoffing;
That’s quite a big crowd of arrogant behaviours to potentially be subject to. Now when I was a young woman I reacted to it, I argued back with whoever it was behaving like this, and in my case, it was usually a man. I challenged them, because I’d adopted this pattern of learned behaviour to deal with a bullying arrogant uncle, married to my father’s sister, who picked on me in one way or another for years, while the aunt just let him. (Needless to say, neither of them are on my radar now). So when I got older, I would react on autopilot…not considering any more measured form of behaving or employing alternative tactics. After all, they needed to be stood up to, didn’t they? Someone had to do it, otherwise ‘these people’ would think they could get away with it. If other people wanted to behave like sheep and not make a show of themselves, not upset the social niceties and wanted to cluster together in ineffectual capitulation, and just bleat and complain about it afterwards, then that was up to them, but they had no right to expect me to join them. Case closed.
But later on, I began to see how meeting the arrogant behaviour with hostility just fuelled the behaviour. I’ll give you an little example. I was working in a department store as a sales assistant within a soft furnishing department and the staff on this department were usually female. It was just after 5pm one day, a little after finishing time with the cashing up having been done and the main lights snuffed, and this angry man strode in after closing time demanding to know why his curtain order wasn’t ready – I suspect his wife had asked him to call in after work. There were about four of us lady assistants still there after hours for him to vent his anger onto and he did so, talking down to us, using disrespectful tones, and assuming we would take it because, after all, we were staff, and the customer is always right is widely known to be one of the etched-in-stone ‘holy’ commandments within customer service. Not only that, but I think he thought he could do it because we were women. When it was explained to him by my assistant manager why his order wasn’t ready, he insisted upon seeing the manager (another woman) and when we explained she wasn’t there, he demanded to know her name. He was red in the face by now, and no one replied to him to answer his question. My assistant manager fell silent. I could sense my colleagues holding back out of fear, wariness, whatever you want to call it. He was subduing/oppressing four women with his behaviour and I reacted. I told him our lady manager’s name and spelled the surname to him. Why spell it? Because it was an unusual spelling, and we often clarified it for customers who asked under more genial circumstances. But it must have been the way I said it – matter-of-factly, boldly, no messing, and looking him directly in the eye, because he turned on his heels and left without a word.
And that wasn’t the end of it. The next day, he complained to the store manager about my attitude. We wore name badges, so he’d been able to identify me there and then. I was shocked that he had calculatingly read my name badge on the spot during the exchange and had immediately formulated a plan of revenge – going to the big man at the top (and that is how the head store manager was viewed in this hierarchical environment). Well my assistant manager stood by me, explaining what had happened and that the man had been very rude, and in turn my manager was supportive too. So I got let off by the big man, who apparently, I was told, could have easily sacked me. I was safe, but I was warned to be more careful in the future. How did I feel about the incident afterwards? I felt I’d had no choice but to stand up to his sexist and oppressive arrogance. But I also had a sense of victory that he hadn’t succeeded in getting me sacked.
And this is where the rock musician, Prince, comes in.
In this tiny clip he has this great expression of not suffering fools – and I can totally identify with it. Of course he oozes arrogance himself here, and he was pretty arrogant in real life, but he knew his own worth and protected it up to the hilt. So his expression is one of disdain for, let’s say, idiots, as he sees them, but he is also walking away, and walking away is a very powerful thing to do. So this demonstrates a second behavioural method of dealing with arrogance – just walk away and that arrogant behaviour has nowhere to be channelled. The challenging arrogance is left seething.
The third way of handling arrogance is the most subtle. Firstly it involves an understanding of where the arrogance may be coming from within the person, and secondly, learning how to respond to it in a constructive rather than destructive way. I learned this for myself within a couple of role plays on my counselling course. I think role plays are an incredibly powerful way of learning about human behaviour. In this case, we were asked to consider what kinds of people or behaviours we personally would find it hard to tolerate or listen to effectively. What would press our buttons? My own button to be pressed was arrogance, and we had to go off and role play our chosen behaviour for ourselves, in this case with me creating and acting like an arrogant character, disdaining the counselling process as having any value in my own special case whatsoever, with my partnering student being the counsellor trying to placate me. So I set about it, losing my temper, standing up and looking down on the counsellor (literally and figuratively) and having fun for a little while, but I was soon feeling something I hadn’t expected. And as my student ‘counsellor’ remained seated and talked calmly, I felt an insecurity build inside my character…I sensed the putting on of a front to save face, using a narrow-minded constructed method of survival to protect my ego from being hurt, and so going on the offensive. And as the counsellor continued to stay calm and reasonable, and not retaliate to the aggressive behaviour coming from me, my defensive armour began to fall away. I began to feel a little stupid, and as I sat down at eye level again, I found myself more willing to be sensibly practical and more amenable. My fellow student was dealing with the arrogance and heat of emotion in an assertive way, not the kind of assertiveness that bites back (that isn’t assertiveness at all really), but that remains calm in the face of fire and helps to take the heat out of the situation. So ever since then I’ve been more circumspect about arrogance and I contemplate the person in question. I ask myself what may be going on inside them or in their lives which might explain their protective behaviour, and then I consider what response seems most appropriate, rather than to immediately go on the attack.
Can creative people be arrogant? Yes, they absolutely can. An example from this week. Writers who think a lot of themselves may criticise a fellow group member’s grammar in a facebook group engagement. I saw this happen this week concerning someone who’d been bullied in this way being invited to hop over to ‘our’ far more friendly group, with great repudiation towards the offending group. If criticising grammar in other writers’ ‘off the cuff’ posts isn’t small-minded and arrogant, I don’t know what is. And artists can be arrogant too, in believing that their kind of art is superior to other styles and subjects – I’ve seen plenty of this for myself over the years. But it really is no way to be for one’s own sake and for the sake of fellow creatives. We should support each other, not create snobby divisions.
Some fitting quotes on the qualities of arrogance:
Don’t confuse confidence with arrogance. Arrogance is being full of yourself, feeling you’re always right, and believing your accomplishments or abilities make you better than other people. People often believe arrogance is excessive confidence, but it’s really a lack of confidence. Arrogant people are insecure, and often repel others. Truly confident people feel good about themselves and attract others to them. (Christie Hartman)
Arrogance diminishes wisdom. (Arabian Proverb)
Arrogance is a self-defence tactic to disguise insecurities. (Caroll Michel)
Arrogance is an illusion of superiority one perpetrates upon their self. Some may ultimately find their way through the illusion, but only after many losses. (Debra Crown)
Arrogance makes you stronger from outside, but even weaker from inside. (Ujas Soni)
How great some people would be if they were not arrogant. (The Talmud)
An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person. (Leo Tolstoy)
And as they say in counselling circles, we’ll leave it there for today, shall we?
(Prince gif from Giphy.com, which I’ve been yearning to find a use for!)