I’m awesome, and arrogant.
I’m awesome, and arrogant, and I know it, and this makes me joyful. I wanted to share that joy with you, and explain why I think arrogance is so important, and humility overrated.
For a start, humility suffers from a Catch-22 condition: if you have it, you can’t know you have it, because if you know you have it you don’t. Only arrogant people believe themselves to be humble (but not all arrogant people, since some of us know we are).
Secondly, we’re all arrogant. Arrogant people are unable to learn, thinking that they already know the answer. This is a natural part of the human condition – it’s called confirmation bias – and we all suffer from it. The world simply has too much data in it to be able to take it all in, so we abstract from what we observe, come to conclusions as a result, form beliefs based on those conclusions, and filter our observations based on our beliefs. This is perfectly normal behaviour.
There are some people who believe that because they are aware of confirmation bias, they don’t suffer from it any more. Dan North calls this bias bias. People who are seeking humility are trying to escape from confirmation bias. It would be a fantastic goal, if it wasn’t essentially impossible. The quest for humility is itself a form of bias bias.
Tobias Mayer wrote in his recent blog post on humility, “Humility allows for quiet, internal reflection; it is a tool for rightsizing oneself, and thus opens up greater possibilities for thoughtful, considerate, and open interaction with others.” And yet, this quality isn’t something that just magically appears out of thin air. The only way to discover that we have opinions which we hold too strongly is to share those opinions, and sharing an opinion that we hold strongly but don’t recognise as being biased by our beliefs… well, we will share it as if it’s a fact, and come across as arrogant. Fact.
If we reflect internally, what changes? Where do the new opinions come from?
They come from other people who are sharing their opinions. If humility listens and arrogance talks, then we need arrogance in order for humility to be of any use whatsoever.
There’s a rather lovely phrase: “Strong opinions, weakly held.” That blog post that I’ve just linked to talks about “Wisdom as the courage to act on your knowledge AND the humility to doubt what you know.” Have you ever tried to doubt what you know? Not just suspect, but actually know? Again, we’re asking for the impossible.
Here’s what I’m going to do. Instead of doubting what I know, I’m going to focus on finding out what you know. I’m going to do that by sharing my strongest beliefs – as I have in this blog, as have all the bloggers on humility. I will ask questions only about those things about which I am uncertain. I will do this because there’s a good chance that I’m right, and because my essential human nature makes it impossible for me to do anything else. If I do ask questions, I will gain certainty, and then I will share my wonderful new knowledge with you, because it will be true and I will be right. If I’m wrong, you will no doubt set me straight, because you believe you’re right too. I probably won’t believe you at first, because I’ll be busy filtering whatever you say to fit my model, so you might have to persist and perhaps remind me that I am human and therefore arrogant. Your duty to me, as a fellow human being, is to be arrogant enough, and forgiving enough of my arrogance, to do that.
Because I’m awesome, and arrogant, and so are you.