Arrogance, Timidity, and Honesty

Arrogance (too hot)

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18

Arrogance is overbearing pride that attempts to juxtapose others as inferior to yourself. Although this quality is considered honorable among Klingons, it tends to annoy human beings.

Arrogance makes genuine socialization difficult because it paints others into a competitive position. By treating others as inferior to yourself, you invite them to respond to your opening move with a reactive counter-move. Most likely they’ll either react submissively or challenge your authority with an aggressive stance of their own. Arrogance treats socialization as a competition rather than a cooperative endeavor. It reduces us to baser animal-like behavior instead of more conscious human behavior.

Timidity (too cold)

To be modest in speaking truth is hypocrisy. – Kahlil Gibran

In the sense I’m using it here, timidity is a sense of self-denial to the point of being false. I’m stretching the definition a bit, so think of this as excessive self-effacement or overly submissive modesty.

As opposed to arrogance which creates an over inflated self-imagine, timidity yields an under inflated one. While genuine modesty and humility are typically seen as admirable qualities, when taken to the extreme, they have just as much potential to inhibit intelligent socialization as arrogance. By painting others as superior to you, once again you compel them to react to your opening move with a counter-move, which could involve taking advantage of your submissiveness with an attempt at dominance, or it may involve them becoming even more submissive in an attempt to prop up your apparently weak self-esteem. On the other hand, excessive timidity could even be viewed as a form of arrogance, such as if Leonardo da Vinci were to describe the Mona Lisa as, “just a side project I whipped up over the weekend.”

Honesty (just right)

Where is there dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

Honesty occupies a thin line between arrogance and timidity, and in my experience honesty is indeed the best policy. The form of honesty I’m referring to here is the kind that really matters. Don’t confuse it with the socially polite custom of excuse-making to turn down an insignificant invitation.

No matter how carefully you choose your words, it’s virtually guaranteed you’ll fall on one side of perfect honesty or the other. Do your best anyway. People will not always react the way you’d like, but that’s largely out of your control. Take responsibility for your own words, and do your best to speak the truth. Neither be so arrogant as to think you have complete control over others’ reactions nor so timid as to think you have none. People will react in accordance with their own biases, which may not agree with yours. That is not a failing in your communication; it is merely a part of human existence that must be accepted.
Honesty serves your own self interest because it keeps your understanding of reality from becoming too corrupted by inaccuracy. Arrogance and timidity are both lies which introduce errors into your self-image. It is like feeding a computer inaccurate data. The software may still function, but it will produce erroneous output. Hence the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Arrogance and timidity both produce garbage input, making it impossible for you to produce intelligent output. The practical result is that you become stuck, and your growth rate slows to a crawl. Inaccurate feedback can have extremely negative personal and professional consequences. It can serve to turn an otherwise capable person into a suicidal wreck, or it can place a criminal in charge of a Fortune 500 company.

If you want to accelerate your rate of personal growth, work on becoming as honest as possible, both with yourself and others. The more honest you become, the more accurate will be your model of reality. And this will dramatically improve the success rate of your decisions and actions. Overconfidence and under-confidence are equally problematic, so strive for accuracy instead.

Honesty also serves others well because it reflects their own nature back to them. An honest person functions like a good mirror. Imagine a real mirror such as you might find in your bathroom. If your hair is messy, your mirror will reflect it. As you brush your hair, the mirror gives you immediate and accurate feedback on your progress, allowing you to make subtle corrections to your strokes and thereby achieve the desired result of a well-groomed head. But what if your mirror produces an inaccurate reflection? It would take you much longer to brush your hair, and you might not achieve the desired outcome at all. Consequently, you’d frequently suffer bad hair days. Your relationship to personal growth is no different. With too much inaccurate feedback (both from yourself and others), you’ll suffer the equivalent of a bad hair day, meaning that even though you may take a lot of strokes, your efforts will largely be wasted.

Even when you strive to be honest and your intentions are honorable, you will not always get a reaction that seems appropriate. Others will often react as if you’re being either arrogant or timid. But in such cases their reaction is usually more about them than it is about you. Stay the middle course and focus on being as honest as possible while allowing others to retain full ownership of their reactions. Free yourself from the fear of an undesirable response, and simply accept whatever response you get. Truthfulness, both with yourself and others, is the best way to honor the noble spirit of human communication.

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