Saturday, 30 November 2013


Some time ago, Seleus republished on her blog Lotus Flower an article titled Mistaking Arrogance for confidence. I found it extremely interesting on a variety of levels and it made me think a lot.
Arrogance is something that has been ascribed to my character for my entire life. It caused me endless suffering, especially because the pattern is usually as follows. 
I am accused of being arrogant. I believe it, and start policing my thoughts and actions in a paranoid way. This is all for nought: people keep coming at me with accusations of being arrogant. All the while, these same people are surrounded by others, who get praised to no end and to me appear  completely full of it. So I get harshly criticised for being arrogant, my efforts completely ignored, and other people, displaying what to me looks as genuine arrogance, get praised instead of me. 
It used to drive me insane.

But enough with that for now, let's have a look at a few definitions.
Collins Concise English Dictionary:
arrogant /ˈærəɡənt/ adj
  1. having or showing an exaggerated opinion of one's own importance, merit, ability, etc; conceited; overbearingly proud: an arrogant teacher, an arrogant assumption
Etymology: 14th Century: from Latin arrogāre to claim as one's own; see arrogate
(emphasis mine, quoted from here)

The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism:
[慢] (Skt, Pali mana; Jpn man )
In Buddhism, a function of the mind that obstructs Buddhist practice and the way to enlightenment. Arrogance means to hold oneself to be higher than and to look down upon others, and therefore hinders correct judgment. Buddhism discerned the functions and pitfalls of an arrogant mind, and various Buddhist writings define seven, eight, and nine types of arrogance. A number of figures representing arrogance appear throughout the Buddhist scriptures as well, such as the five thousand arrogant persons in the Lotus Sutra and the Great Arrogant Brahman in "The Record of the Western Regions". Expressions such as "the banner of arrogance" and "the banner of pride" are also found in Buddhist writings. See also: five thousand arrogant persons; Great Arrogant Brahman; nine types of arrogance.
(emphasis mine, quoted from here)

The nine types of arrogance are further described as:
1) thinking that one surpasses one's equals; 
2) thinking that one is equal to those who are superior; 
3) thinking that one is only slightly inferior to those who are far superior; 
4) assuming false humility in affirming the superiority of those in fact superior to oneself; 
5) asserting equality with one's equals; 
6) asserting the inferiority of one's equals; 
7) thinking that one is not surpassed by one's equals; 
8) thinking that one's equals are not equal to oneself, i.e., that they are inferior; and 
9) humbly acknowledging the superiority of superiors and vaunting one's inferiority (a form of false humility).
What I find interesting about this list is that some of these types of arrogance are actions (namely #4,5,6 and 9), whereas others are "just" thoughts.

This is where it gets sticky for me. Controlling your actions is relatively easy (of course barring the obvious acting in anger, etc), but how in the name of everything holy are you supposed to control what you think?
A lot of my Buddhist practice has been focussed on freeing myself from the obsession of needing other people's approval and basing my happines upon comparing myself to them. As it says in the article: 
[A]rrogance is essentially our inclination to judge our self-worth by comparing ourselves with others. Certain comparisons between oneself and others may be objectively true—such as income, IQ or physical appearance. But if we constantly judge our self-worth through comparison with others in whatever standards chosen, we are becoming arrogant. Of course, this is not to deny some merits that comparison and competition bring to our lives—such as motivation for improvement and an opportunity for self-reflection. Moreover, the correct assessment of our circumstances through comparison is essential to improving our lives. In fact, those living in isolation or unwilling to learn from others are arrogant. Comparison with others becomes a cause for our concern when it becomes a sole measure for judging our existence. Put simply, if we start thinking of our lives as happy or unhappy, meaningful or meaningless, solely based on comparison with others, we may as well consider ourselves as arrogant. Arrogant people feel good about themselves only through affirming their superiority to others. Our sense of superiority is always relative to whom we are compared with and never constant because of our own changing circumstances.

This tendency can easily transform your life into a painful austerity. Things are never that easy though, and our sudden bout of depression when we realise we are "inferior" to someone else may also have been triggered by something else. Just like when the sight of a beautiful woman would depress me for a day. Yes, that was related to my arrogance and anger, but also to the fact that I hated my body with a flaming, all encompassing rage and even deeper down to my repressed homosexuality. The second I acknowledged to myself that I was attracted to women, that particular trigger all but disappeared.
Now my problem is that I am all or nothing. If I have one little arrogant thought, I feel like a failure. I feel like it must show on my face how base and mean and unworthy I am. I find it really difficult to find the balance between objective assessment and arrogance. 

And as I discovered recently, people find it hard to understand me too.
Let's add another element to the problem. Autism.
A few months ago, I started seeing a counsellor. It wasn't my idea, but I have no problems talking about my feelings (if anything, I have problems shutting up) and it was free so I figured, why not?
After talking to me, the counsellor wondered about something I had been suspecting for a few years now, namely that I might be somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum.

I felt like a big weight had just fallen off my shoulders. All of a sudden, everything made sense. I didn't have to fight with myself anymore. I didn't have to feel like a broken machine. 

Paradoxically and ironically enough, when someone other than me mentioned that I displayed lots of traits that did make me potentially, clinically "different", I stopped feeling different from everyone else. I started this wonderful journey of not comparing myself to others.

More to the point, and again quite paradoxically, I stopped (well, I still have bad days :P) obsessing about what others are thinking and I started caring about other people's opinions. Allow me to elaborate on this one, because it truly makes very little sense.
Before counselling (and the Actual Proof campaign), other people were a total mystery to me. I assumed everyone was like me, and I was baffled and hurt by people's unpredictability and their seeming lack of consistency (lack of consistency causes me physical pain, believe it or not); I tried to force myself to look or sound in a certain way, constantly trying to manipulate people in order to obtain the reactions I wanted. I was obsessed about controlling what people thought of me, because I was terrified that it might be bad.

When I started realising that my brain works in a fundamentally different way, a lot of the fear disappeared. It took a while, but I now find myself being genuinely interested in other people's opinions and in how they can provide an insight into their personality, rather than just obsessing about myself. I now respect and love myself enough to understand that I am fine, just the way I am, and I am ready to make myself more accessible to others so they can understand me, not the fake image of me I create so that people would think nice things about me.
In other words, through my practice, study and journey of self-discovery, I am transforming myself into a genuinely confident person.
Genuinely confident people [...] feel great about themselves without comparing themselves with others. Such people are aware of some intrinsic personal strength or merit worthy of praise and respect. Confident people can put into perspective their ups and downs of life in this society driven by comparison and competition. Their missed promotion or lost love does not spell out their failure as a human being. Their financial success or academic achievement does not make them superior to their peers. So long as they continue to be aware of their innate positive quality and strive to cultivate it, people will remain confident regardless of their external circumstances. And Buddhism teaches that the most reliable source of confidence is our innate Buddha nature.
So, having some arrogant thoughts every now and then doesn't spell out my failure as a human being. Another thing I have learnt in this journey is that, it's ok to be flawed, it's ok to have some negative, poisonous thoughts. It's even ok to complain. So long as we recognise these as fundamental darkness manifesting in our lives and we fight them, there is no need to beat ourselves up for THINKING SOMETHING.

I truly hope I am making some sense here. I will conclude with Nichiren's words:
Now, if you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra” (WND, 58–59).

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely fantastic writing about a subject I have frequently struggled to truly understand! Much thanks to you for your courage in sharing this. In your endeavour to understand yourself, you have helped me understand myself.


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