Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are you a feather or a brick?

The boundaries between arrogance and high self esteem, as well as humility and low self esteem are murky. This is because the former pair are both characterised by power, stature, and dominance; while the latter pair are associated with meekness, lowliness, and submission. In truth, the qualities in each set are veritable opposites. Here are four ways of distinguishing between the ostensibly similar qualities:

a) Stifling versus motivating:

Arrogance generally relates to past achievement. The arrogant individual expects admiration owing his stature, accomplishments, or possessions. This often stifles his growth and actualization of potential. Excessive focus on ‘reward’ for the past, detracts from future progress. High self esteem, in contrast, relates to a sense of potency and efficacy. The individual is aware of his potential to achieve great things and focuses on actualizing it.
A similar distinction exists between low self esteem and humility:

Low self esteem is characterised by feelings of  incompetence and helplessness; a blindness toward one's potential, it impedes progress. Humility, however, stems the realization that one hasn't achieved anywhere near one’s potential. One has so much more to offer that past achievements pale in comparison to one's potential. Indeed, the humble individual tends to be embarrassed by former accomplishments. He is forever focused on bringing out his best.

Both low self esteem and arrogance relate to a false perception of one’s potential. One with the former thinks he has little potential, one with the latter believes he's already actualized much of it. Both stifle progress.

Both high self esteem and humility relate to an awareness of one's potential. One with the former is aware of his efficacy, one with the latter is strongly dissatisfied with the status quo in light of it. Both motivate progress.

The humble individual is compared to grass which is upright (as though striving higher); the arrogant individual is compared to a large tree with drooping branches (for one complacent can only begin to decline). 

b) Seeking approval from others:   

The Euphrates was asked, “Why do you flow so quietly?” To which it replied, “People are aware of me on account of the fertile soil that I produce. I thus have no need to make noise.” 
The Tigris was then asked, "Why do you flow so noisily?" To which it replied, "Just have a look at my desolate banks, people pay no attention to me. I make noise to get noticed!"

This ancient parable lucidly illustrates the relationship between low self esteem and arrogance, high self esteem and humility. Because one with self esteem feels his own potency, he doesn't seek attention by boasting about himself. One suffering from low self esteem, however, feels impotent, and draws attention to himself by blowing his trumpet.
Based on this, low self esteem and arrogance are actually two sides of the same coin, as are high self esteem and humility. 

c) Rational/Irrational:

Arrogance and low self esteem are irrational in nature. There is no real rational basis for feeling either quality, for in reality every person has unlimited potential, the awareness of which should naturally dwarf one's former achievements. Indeed, the more rational and reality aligned a person is, the less likely he is to feel low self esteem or arrogance. Meanwhile, both humility and  high self esteem are in sync with reality, and are strengthened by reason and fact.

The humble individual is compared to a bottle filled with coins (I.e. humility is based on substance) and thus makes no noise when shaken (the humble individual has no need to convince himself that he's important). In contrast,  the arrogant individual is like a bottle with only a few coins, which rattles when moved (that is, the arrogant person needs to inflate himself to counter his deep-seated and typically unconscious sense of insignificance).

d) Tolerance of criticism or failure:

Arrogance and low self esteem make criticism or failure more painful, while self-esteem and humility make them more tolerable. By way of analogy, who will be more distraught by the loss of $500, a millionaire or a pauper who only has $500? Obviously, for one, the loss of $500 does little damage, but for the other, whose life hangs on it, it is devastating.

Similarly, one with self-esteem believes himself to be valuable. Failure or criticism thus detract little from his self-worth. One with low self-esteem, however, feels he has little value. Hence, failure or criticism can be severely distressing.         

A similar difference exists between arrogance and humility. The arrogant person who, as mentioned, sees himself as the product of limited past achievements, suffers when criticised; he's like a static statue that is being chipped away at. The humble individual, however, who dynamically strives to grow and improve, is not only capable of tolerating criticism - he is thankful for it as it helps him progress.

The humble individual is compared to a feather, which, when dropped lands softly. The arrogant individual is compared to a brick, which, when dropped lands with a thud.   

In Summary:

    What people think: 
Humility and low self-esteem are related, as are arrogance and high self-esteem.

The truth: 
 Humility and high self-esteem are strongly related, as are arrogance and low self- esteem.   

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