Integrity Matters
September 14, 2005

Arrogance stems from fear, low self-esteem

Question: (E-205)

Dear Jim:

What causes people to be arrogant?


A sense of personal entitlement, fear and low self-esteem are the big three.

Fortunate birth circumstances are not self-made. Those who snobbishly live off of the hard work, sacrifice and successes of previous generations often come across as feeling entitled to privileged position, power and prestige.

Even sports fans, who wrap themselves in the victories of their teams, come across as haughty, deserving admiration simply because "their team" posted more victories than my team. The sports example is especially painful for me, having been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. The Cubs give me little reason to gloat, boast and even bring up my team's name, except to fellow suffering "Wrigley Field Warriors." Humility trumps haughtiness and discourages arrogance.

Fear of "being found out" regarding dark secrets of incompetence, uncertainty and doubt drive many to overcompensate. A wise mentor said: "The most expensive thing that a man has, not a woman, is his ego."

Boys battle over toys, running speed and brute strength. Such pursuits are costly, exhausting and often dangerous. Women really are smarter and they know it, which may explain why they live longer. Humiliating others, picking fights to demonstrate prowess and being stingy, especially when tipping service people, is a window into a bitter soul. Those who are in "over their heads" turn to bluster and bullying to camouflage their fundamental feelings of inadequacy. Another of my curmudgeon friends said to remember, "your ego is not your amigo."

Low self-esteem, blamed on mediocre parenting and humble beginnings, has been oversimplified by those who wish to sidestep accountability.

Clients seek input from our firm, Dimension Five Consultants, to enhance their interpersonal and organizational effectiveness. When challenged, by us, to adjust certain counter-productive behaviors, some instead make excuses. They were either too tall and stood out or were too short and overlooked. Too fat, too skinny, too poor, too rich, first child, middle child, born in the city, reared in a small town, English was a second language, English is the only language, father left family, parents stayed in horrible marriage - and the list goes on.

Sooner or later, adults must get over it and move on. Life is filled with opportunities for those who are willing to risk, reach out and grow. Crutches are for the crippled, not the lazy. Being rude is irresponsible. Condescension does not reflect integrity, but graciousness does. Showing respect for others, regardless of their economic, cultural or social position, is the mark of maturity and civility.

Letter to the Editor, published November 8, 2005:

Ego deterrent to good business

I have read with interest the business column by Jim Bracher and agree with much of what he says.

Ego is truly an impediment for men and women. I'm not sure about the part where it says women are smarter, because I have seen many women who play the backstabbing game more viciously than men. Maybe the problem is that these women have tried to become "manly" in adopting some of the more combative aspects of the male character.

Back to my point. Ego is the great destroyer of men and women and careers and marriages and any other type of relationship. My ego is pretty strong, but not to the point where I will lie, cheat or do things that will harm others personally or professionally. I have been told I lack a killer instinct, and I thank God every night that it is true. But where that limits me in the dog-eat-dog world of business, it helps me in other areas of life. If you can identify the "killers" and weed them out of the organization, and get people to play by the rules of human decency, the organization would become more collaborative, more functional, more communicative and more productive (although performance issues are still performance issues, and need to be addressed). This is so simple, yet so hard for people to understand.

David Hubbard

Ogden, Utah

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