Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arrogance & Empathy: Learning To Look Beneath The Facade

Arrogance's a topic we all have to contend with once in a while.  In our daily lives we come face to face with it often enough, whether it is from others or from ourselves.  Let's explore this topic a bit and see what it has to do with being an Empath or more simply, being empathic toward others.

Arrogance is the act of making undue claims in an overbearing manner; that species of pride which consists in exorbitant claims of rank, dignity, estimation, or power, or which exalts the worth or importance of the person to an undue degree; proud contempt of others; lordliness; haughtiness; self-assumption; presumption. In other words, it is the act of having an excess of pride and a superior manner toward anyone deemed as an inferior.

In doing research on this topic, I found one comment that spoke of arrogance being "one of the very worst characteristics of human consciousness and is a normal by-product of the mind flying in the stratospheres of its own conceit".  It goes on to describe it like this, "The main problem with arrogance is that it only listens to itself, and in that, the mind's light goes out. It has been said that the mind cannot know itself, cannot get out of its own skin so to speak, and yet it is not able to perceive this. When it comes to the heart or to any pure process of communication, arrogance interferes dramatically with communication flow and leads directly to absolute walls of separation between one being and another."  And while all of this is true, in describing what arrogance is and what it does, it does not touch upon what lays beneath the characteristics of arrogance.

Arrogance, much in the same vein as vanity, conceit, egotism, and the more extreme narcissism, is all about placing oneself higher than others, untouchable by the masses,  through the act of excessive self love and validation.  Sometimes it is about being the center of attention and sometimes simply about being better than others.

Every social group has people like this in it, some more obviously so than others.  Because while there are those who wear arrogance on their sleeve like a badge of honor, there are also others who can evince arrogance over certain topics and be quite normal at other times.  This is because it is indeed a very human quality, good or bad not withstanding.

What is truly interesting, though, once one steps away from the overbearing attitudes of one who is arrogant, is what lays beneath the opinions and behaviors expressed by that person.  You see, arrogance is a facade or a shield, to keep one from seeing what the person truly thinks and feels.  It usually hides vulnerability, flaws that the person is so ashamed and embarrassed by, they do not want the world to see them.

Arrogance can take many forms like intellectual superiority, religious superiority, monetary superiority, status superiority, or a host of others.  And all that is needed is to become arrogant is a bit of fear, low self esteem, some anger, and apathy.  A low opinion of one's true self, fear of being discovered,  anger brewing into resentment, and indifference to the plight of others, can cause one to become blind to the world, with a hard exterior that sets one apart from those around them. (What a lonely place to be.)

It's hard to see all of those things, though, isn't it?  It's hard to feel sympathy or pity for such a person, when you are constantly confronted and assailed with their supposed superiority in all things when you are in their presence.  It's hard to feel anything but disgust.  It makes you roll your eyes at their pomposity or dismiss them outright.  Or if you happen to get caught up in their greatness for a time, the sheen often becomes lackluster after a while, because you are always left feeling inferior.

Empathy and Arrogance

Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person and the capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding. A simpler way to put it would be to say it is the understanding and entering into another's feelings.  It is the act of attempting to step out of one's own point of view and into that of another person, to share in their way of seeing the world and how it affects them emotionally.

Empathy, by its very definition,  seems to be the complete opposite of arrogance, don't you think?  It takes one out of the realm of the 'self' and places you into the realm of the 'other person'.  Or it focuses you outwardly toward the world around you instead of inwardly toward your own ego, inflated or otherwise.

An interesting thing to note about empathy, is that when it is genuinely utilized and expressed, one can not help  being humbled by the sheer magnitude of other people's collective experiences and emotions.  To share in that experience, even for a moment, is both frightening and awe inspiring.  It promotes sharing and understanding on levels that move way beyond the ideas of simple tolerance.

"Insensitivity makes arrogance ugly;
empathy is what makes humility beautiful."
- Renford Reese, Ph.D.

Arrogance places a person above others, singling them out.  Empathy places a person side by side others.  One can not ever truly express empathy while standing apart from others, because when one stands apart one can only see and focus on themselves.

And while one stands in arrogance, blindly insensitive to others, behind the facade it leaves them drowning in their own morose fears of self recrimination. Because it closes the doors not just to empathizing with others, but also for others to empathize with them.  It closes the doors of friendship, compassion, and sympathy.  And very few are willing and/or able to see beyond that egocentric mask when it is so prominently displayed and all they are offered up is derision and insult.  And it not only blinds the hearts of those who utilize it, it also blackens the hearts of those who are victims  at it's hands.  It uplifts one, falsely, at the expense of others.

The Point

There is a two fold point to this blog. One is to offer a compare and contrast about arrogance and empathy. The other is to offer you a different point of view about people who are arrogant, because there is always more to a person than what they show you on the surface. There are always things that lay beneath whatever facade they show the world, to which you are not privy to.

But to see them, you have to be willing to open yourself up and look, if for no other reason than to understand the depths of human nature in all of it's intricacies. Because nothing, when it comes to human beings, is ever as simple as it seems on the surface.

In the case of Empaths, we come in all shapes and sizes, with personalities that span the board. And all of us, as Empaths and as people, can fall victim to arrogance, be it our own or someone else's. Because being an Empath doesn't mean you will always be empathetic to others. It only means you will be sensitive to all of the emotional currents that flow around you. And it is as easy to shut yourself down and hold yourself away and/or above others as it is to step into the melee that is life and share in that experience with others.

The choice is always yours. So consider it.

Two Wolves - Cherokee Words Of Wisdom

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