On Arrogance and Humility

The arrogant are loved by the superficial and dependent and hated or merely tolerated by the independent and profound. The authentically humble are loved by nearly all except those to whom they pose a destabilizing threat. Arrogance ultimately rests on the false belief that one is separate from all others and superior as well as important to the universe above all others.

Humility rests on a recognition of the facts of human limitations and the place of humanity within the vast universe. Arrogance is the path of ignorance, humility, of wisdom. Whatever shallow pleasures arrogance affords, humility far exceeds them in quantity as well as depth. The humble flow with life, the arrogant try to walk against it, lording themselves over it.

As Ancient Greek tragedy shows us, arrogant pride comes before a fall and as the Tao te Ching says, the blades of grass that stand the tallest above the others are the first to be cut down.

Therefore, I face my limitations, I see how little I know, how much more there is to learn. I see that my abilities can be much more honed. I see that the human being ‘Adam’ is a speck in the vast, sweeping universe, and yet interconnected with it and not separate. I see that your suffering is as important as mine, that your concerns matter. And therefore, I try to walk the path of humility.

However, part of the attempt to walk the humble path means acknowledging that sometimes you fall short of it and feel pride. When this happens, we must again turn to the limitations that put humility in perspective and frame arrogance as foolish. This is the path of a lifetime. I have found, though, that humility has never disappointed me, while arrogance has. I do not consider myself wise, but I do know that arrogance will only push me away from my goal of wisdom, while humility will bring me closer to it.  Therefore, I strive to walk the path of humility.

A friend pointed out to me that the line between humility and arrogance can, however, get blurry; the two form more a spectrum with intervening grey area than a stark juxtaposition of black and white. The arrogant can have moments of humility and the humble, moments of arrogance. However, these comments apply to the dominant tone of a person’s life; they describe, in broad terms, two general ways of living. The first is a life lived predominantly with an arrogant perspective and the second is a life lived mainly by a humble approach. I see little value in the first and much value in the second.

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