Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Arrogance

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Those to whom much has been given sometimes suffer from arrogance; or rather the people around them suffer. Arrogance is doubly a pity, because the talents of the arrogant serve primarily themselves. The arrogant assumes his views and opinions are The Truth. In arrogance, natural confidence goes sadly awry. Rather than the self-assurance born of knowing his own strengths and limitations, arrogance admits no limits. The arrogant brooks no weakness in himself and may even secretly rejoice to find flaws in others. But imperfections are inherent in being human, so the arrogant, like everyone else, always has feet of clay, however well hidden they may be. Fearing exposure, haughtiness forms a hard shell masking inner emptiness.

The arrogant sees first himself. Rather than offering respect to all, arrogance demands respect from all. Dismissive, arrogance poisons all relationships: with himself, with others, and with the spiritual depths. Worshipping the grand but empty edifice of ego, the self-important sees others as less human, as cardboard cutouts, relating as I-It rather than as I-Thou, in Martin Buber’s apt phrase.

Like so many self-centered traits, arrogance in others activates the arrogance in us, or its surface opposite of timidity and self-doubt. Confronted with arrogance, we might erupt indignantly or we might lapse into dwelling piteously on our own limitations. We then infect others and the vicious cycle continues.

A subspecies of arrogance, spiritual arrogance, takes at least two forms. In the first, the victim concludes that he has made progress, perhaps due to having a few deep experiences. Or he prides himself for being part of the in-crowd, or for being friendly with the teacher, or for being the teacher. Whatever the reason, the spiritually arrogant mistakenly determines that he or she is special and then vaunts that assumed eminence over other people. This may be explicit in his outward behavior or implicit in his inward self-image. When a spiritual teacher contracts a case of spiritual arrogance, hubris typically leads to abuses of his unfortunate students.

In another form of spiritual arrogance, the true believer aggressively proselytizes, pushing his own path as the one and only way, browbeating people by claiming that they will not be saved without the chosen path, or that they are misguided. In actuality, this wide Earth harbors many valid and effective paths. The appropriate path for any particular person is a highly individual discovery, and cannot be decided by anyone else. It sometimes happens that when people first enter a path, an obsessive infatuation sets in. They may see their path as the one true way and attempt to convert others, even over protests of disinterest. Maturity brings respect for and acceptance of the validity of other paths.

All forms of arrogance lie well beyond the pale of true spirituality, because arrogance attempts to fill our inner emptiness with ego rather than allowing that emptiness to blossom into humility. Freedom from arrogance begins with seeing. At first we may only receive hints from how our behavior affects those around us. Then we might glimpse, in action, our overwrought and inflated assumptions about ourselves. Gradually, we learn to allow ourselves, in our own estimation, to be at the same level of importance as others: not higher, despite our gifts, and not lower, despite our defects — just ordinary. This is the antidote to arrogance and its second greatest fear: to be an ordinary person.

 


        

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