If you’re like me, you probably find card-carrying members of the AAA (American Association of Arrogance) hard to stomach. But it’s still a good idea to learn, even from those you find repugnant.
What can you learn from these self-anointed saints? Answer: plenty. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention just three of the most obvious lessons.
Lesson No. 1: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
There’s probably not a person on earth who hasn’t tripped himself up on this one at one time or another. Isn’t it amazing how the whole truth seems to have a way of surfacing, often at the most inopportune time?
Of course, when it comes to politicians, we expect them to lie. But what’s amazing is how, even when they’re caught, they still resist coming totally clean. While you certainly don’t expect honesty from them, you’d like to believe they are at least intelligent. Yet, they don’t seem to be able to recognize when the time has come to fess up?
I believe this is because their power-driven arrogance gives them a feeling of omnipotence. The laws they pass are for the governed, not for those who govern. But you and I should always keep in mind that we aren’t members of the ruling class. Which is why it’s a good idea, when confronted, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I only needed one bad experience, early in life, to convince me of that. It happened when I was about seven or eight years old. I had gone into a “drugstore” (different meaning then) with my older sister, without a dime in my pocket, and did something I had never done before: steal. It was a colorful rubber ball … and, well, I just did it. No excuses. Couldn’t resist.
When we got home, my dad asked my sister and me where we had been, and we told him we were at the drugstore. He then asked where I got the ball I was holding. Yikes! “Er … uh … I found it in the street,” I responded nervously.
“Really?” my dad asked. “Then why does it look brand-new, and why does it have a price sticker on it?”
“Doh!” (Or some similar pre-Homer Simpson response that I can’t recall.)
My dad continued his relentless questioning. “Is that really a ball you found in the street or is it a ball you took from the drugstore?”
Had it happened in today’s moral environment, I might have come up with a more clever answer like, “That depends upon what the meaning of is is.” But knowing my dad, it’s a good thing I didn’t. I would have been lucky to have gotten off without being waterboarded.
My dad hustled me into the car, drove to the drugstore, and made me give the ball back to the owner and apologize. I was ashamed of myself and cried all the way home. I wasn’t allowed to play outside for a week. Funny how life works … it wasn’t until decades later that I was able to fully appreciate what a great father my dad was for making me face up to what I had done.
One lesson was all that I needed. When I took that ball, I didn’t really give it a lot of thought. I just did it. But adults do think when they do something dishonest, which is why it takes a great deal of arrogance for an adult to believe he can get away with a dishonest act.
If you don’t make a conscious effort to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you may just end up having a good cry over a beer with Pete Rose or Lance Armstrong someday.
Lesson No. 2: Don’t buy into arrogance.
I try to follow a simple rule when it comes to people who are self-righteous: The more they dwell on their virtues — both directly and indirectly— the more skeptical I become. As Thoreau said, “There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.”
Given that I’ve never met a real, live saint, it would be hard for anyone to convince me that he falls into that semi-divine category. Which is why I’ve become so selective over the years in both my business and personal life. I go out of my way to avoid people who practice incest with themselves.
Aside from giving me an upset stomach, the problem with dealing with self-anointed saints is that you can’t count on them to shoot straight with you. Why? Because arrogance breeds lying, and people who lie are dangerous to those around them.
If nothing else, their decisions are often based on ego fulfillment rather than an honest appraisal of the facts. If I’m involved with someone, I need to know that his decisions are based on rational thinking.
The key to keeping arrogant people — and, for that matter, all badly flawed people — out of your life is to master the art of detachment, a subject I have written about extensively. Remember, no one person or deal is of life-or-death importance, even though people often convince themselves otherwise.
When someone comes across as self-righteous and arrogant, one word should immediately pop into your mind: “Next!” Then, move on.
Lesson No. 3: Continually monitor your own actions for any signs of arrogance.
In hindsight, I can see that I was pretty arrogant myself in my early twenties. It was an easy mistake for me to make, because I had a grandiose vision of who I was — even though I had accomplished very little.
Since those early days, I have observed this same condition in other people all too many times, a phenomenon often referred to as “arrogance of the ignorant.” What I’ve found through the years is that humility tends to come with age — for normal people, that is. One big reason for this is because, with enough years and experience under one’s belt, a rational person ultimately arrives at the all-too-obvious conclusion that, in the end, everyone loses.
That’s right — regardless of how rich, how famous, or how powerful you may be, you’re going to lose the final battle. For some poor souls, that last defeat comes early in life. For others, it arrives much later. But, rich or poor, sooner or later, everyone loses in the end.
It is not my intention here to convey a pessimistic message. On the contrary, the fact that death wins 100 percent of the time is all the more reason to live life to the fullest, to strive to be the best you can be at everything you do, and, above all, to try hard to maintain that ever-elusive state of mind, happiness. If there were no such thing as death, by what standard could we measure the preciousness of life?
From time to time, it’s healthy to think about the reality that ultimately everyone loses, because it’s a great antidote to arrogance. Arrogance gets in the way of living up to your full potential. It gets in the way of enjoying meaningful relationships. And, above all, it gets in the way of happiness.
Don’t concern yourself with the fact that most members of the American Association of Arrogance will never get any of this. All you need to focus on is not buying into their arrogance, keeping them out of your life, and striving to achieve one of the most admired of all human traits — a trait that will make your journey through life eminently easier — humility.