Friday, June 25, 2010

Serving Up a Slice of Humble Pie

I had a conversation today with a good friend of mine (won't mention whom) about what, exactly, arrogance is. You see, this particular friend of mine has gotten to be accomplished and recognized in his field, which also happens to be a field I am pursuing. Now, he and I have remained in very close contact and I consider him one of my best friends, so needless to say, I am honored to be among the "inner circle" (and, of course, I am not terribly far behind, myself.)

In our conversation today, however, the topic arose about whether his mentioning his achievements is actually arrogant. Surely we can all think of examples of what is definitely arrogance and what is definitely not, but there is a lot of grey area in between to be discussed (incidentally, the computer from which I am typing prefers "gray" to "grey," but I refuse to change!) If someone asks, for example, whether I am a very good musician, I am not sure of the most appropriate way to respond; I go to a highly renowned school, I place among the top 50% in auditions there, and earn myself top grades in most classes I take, but is it okay for me to call myself "very good?" I feel like there's something to be said for the bible verse which reads "He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

However, there is also a false humility, which can be almost as dangerous as arrogance. Not recognizing one's accomplishments, in a sense, is not accepting oneself for what one is; whatever makes one unusual should generally be celebrated and be incorporated into one's life in a healthy manner. It is self-deprecating to intentionally deny oneself of the recognition and/or praise one deserves, almost as if believing one does not actually deserve it at all.

Still, there is a lot to be accounted for in "the eye of the beholder." People make various assumptions about others, whether founded or not. I can think of an example from my senior year of high school, in which my band played Blue Shades by Frank Ticheli, which features a clarinet solo in the style of Benny Goodman toward the end. My band director held auditions for the solo, and I won the spot. In performance, he also followed a common tradition for the piece, in which the clarinet soloist stands up and plays in front of the band. Rumors spread like wildfire that I was arrogant for having taken the spot and that I thought I was better than the rest of the band, when, in fact, I had only been asked to do so by the band director (though, of course, I was not going to refuse the opportunity!) Do these assumptions, therefore, mean that I am arrogant? Certainly not, or at least I would not say so. However, they do make me arrogant in the eyes of those people, which is just as bad to them, whether I really am or not.

So just what is arrogance? I suppose the best answer is that one can only know what is on one's conscience, and at the end of the day, that is what matters. I suppose the best way to summarize it is to borrow from many a celebrity and say "keep it real."

Sleep: X
German: X
Clarinet: X
Exercise: ABUF
Blogging: X


  1. ar·ro·gant (insert phonetic symbols here)
    1. Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance.
    2. Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one's superiority toward others.

    Trouble is that most people who are arrogant are not aware of it themselves. But, as my overtired brain was trying to formulate the other day, the fear of being arrogant or being percieved that way by others may render your feeling of selfworth lame and forgotten by the side of the road. Point is: You should acknowledge your own accomplishments. That being said I think one should acknowledge one's flaws and defeats in equal measure. Guess I'm just in favour of truth; If you're good and you know it clap your hands! :D
    It only becomes a problem if you recognizing your talents or accomplishments leads to you thinking you are better than everyone or without fault.

  2. I'm not sure my comment is fully formed, as it came to me while reading your post...

    But for me arrogance isn't in the act of being confident or believing in your ability to do something... it is when that occurs to the exclusion of recognition of the achievements, or ability to achieve of others around you.

    Particularly, as in my case as a postgrad student, I see it in my peers... who you are both relying on for support but who the academic world indicates you are in competition with (publications, scholarships, grants, recognition...). I find the people who are most difficult to be around are the ones who assume their work is better/more important/ and (crucially for the discussion) more interesting than anything anyone else is doing.

    For me, that is arrogance... its the lack of a reflection on behaviour.

  3. Unfortunately, Steve, arrogance in the music industry is VERY common. As a musician myself (choral), I feel that there is a simple litmus test to determine if listing your accomplishments is more arrogant than interesting. For me, it comes down to one word: fanboy. When you recall the places that you have performed, do you geek out about anything OTHER than the name of the location?

    For me, I don't feel arrogant saying that I have performed in Le Catedral de Notre Dame de Paris, because I remember walking around it and being in awe of just how intriguing the architecture was. I also don't feel arrogant saying that I performed the choral works of Morten Lauridsen in his presence in Pasadena, because I remember a certain moment when all our hard work paid off at the end of the 4th song of Lauridsen's Rose Cycle and we nailed the final chord and just how much I lost my mind once I got off stage.

    Another example I'll use was that in high school, my choir director got us private use of St. Patrick's Cathedral (or was it St. John the Baptist, I forget) in NYC to practice in. It was a beautifully quiet place, full of Gothic architecture. When we got back to rehearsal the next week, he asked us what we thought of the experience, and all it seemed we could talk about was the music and our performance. His reaction was that he was disappointed in us, not because of how we performed in a private rehearsal, but how it seemed we missed the point of being there. He told us that his intention was for us to sing in these glorious acoustics, take in the image of us all in such a beautiful place, and step out of performance mode and into spectator mode.

    Looking back, after he told us that, I realized just how much we forgot about that moment of just being a group of teenagers with a common bond and sharing experiences. But I never let that happen to me again.