CVOID19 is still active in many countries while some seem to be having a 2nd wave (already). Thanks to technology, one can still keep communicating with friends, family and business. This time Lucy and I decided to have our regular meeting with the help of technology. It meant that, I did not get to try variety of tea that Lucy keep on collecting. Nevertheless, It was a nice talk and I got something to write about. Earlier I thought to make it a part of the ongoing series “The most weird species”. But just before I sat down to write, I changed my mind about it. I think it was fair to keep it this way thus keeping the topic linked to Lucy, as it was in discussion with her that I got an idea about it.
Lucy told me of the time, when she went for some work in Germany. She said that in her observation Germans were too arrogant and for that reason she does not prefer to live there. I asked her, if she could find why they behaved in arrogant way. She answered because they have a feeling that they are somehow superior than others, that they feel they are better than you. As per Lucy’s experience with her colleagues, they weren’t any better than her in any noticeable way. I asked her, if she thinks that it could be that they carry a collective pride of being an outperforming or more successful nation in comparison to others. And this national collective pride, is the one, that is then visible at individual level. Interestingly, she did not think that Germany is that special as a country to carry that kind of individual arrogance. In her opinion there are other much better countries without that kind of arrogance carried by its people.
This bird spends 10 months to show its importance to a probable mate
I am not going to get into if Germany is a good place to live or if Germans in general are arrogant. That, I believe has a lot do with individual personality, individual’s cultural background, expectation from the new place and of course the exposure one gets at a new place. There is a small story from “Mahabharata“. In it the teacher, Dronacharya, send Duryodhana (portraying the negative mindset) to find a good person in the village. He comes back and report that there is no good person in the village. The teacher then sends Yudhishthira (portraying positive mindset) to find a bad person in the same village. He comes back and reports and that he could not find any bad person in the village. Having said that, I am reminded of a documentary by Michael Moore, “Where to invade next“. It was recommended to me by an American believing that director has showed how America is in a bad shape in comparison to the rest of the countries visited in the documentary. When I watched it, I thought of the same story I just mentioned above. What I would like to rather explore here is what is this arrogance.
As per online Cambridge dictionary arrogant means, “unpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people”. This to me seems kind of a subset of a person feeling “special”. Remember one can feel special only in relation to others. There is no absolute specialness; probably it is bounded by relativity theory as well. But isn’t it that roots of this feeling are inbuilt in all of us? This feeling is not a special gift to mankind, other species carry it as well. Of course the level of complexity that humans have is not shared by any other kind. If we take the basic evolutionary theory, then one has to prove oneself to be important or better than others to attract a mate. If one does not have that quality or urge to do so, then forget about any evolution of that individual. Have you seen a peacock making an arrogant display of its colors? Or a bird feeling proud of its nest to show it to a probable mate? Or an alpha chimp making an arrogant walk to remind who is the boss in the group?
This is not just confined to individual strengths or achievements. We feel important, special or arrogant based on our relations. A child may behave differently when it knows that its parent is richest person in the social circle. Similarly a parent may behave differently based on kid’s achievement. The extent of that behavior could very easily be linked to rating or evaluation of that achievement in the social circle. E.g. being top in the class, in the city, in the region or nation or maybe an Olympic medal or some international award. I once went to an event, I think it was some publicly organized event. I met a person who was with his son. His son, probably just 3 years old if not less, was wearing a dress. A dress that I would associate with Indian kings and princes as I saw on TV growing up. It is not that I had any personal relations with a king or prince to know it first hand. I told the man, “Your son is dressed like a prince”. He immediately fired back, “Not like a prince, he is a prince!”. I was confused and moved on to the next person. Did he regard himself as a king? Why was he so proud of his son? Did not look like that son “achieved” a lot at this age. In either case he had to dress a young kid in that dress, for what? Wasn’t it to feel important, that to the level that nothing less than an actual prince would suffice as a casual comment!! All those are linked in different ways to one’s pride and arrogance. It is not just about family but it extends to our friends too. Based on the countries and cultures impact may vary, but I believe globally, if your friend is in some position of power it gives you an edge too. Try to imagine being friend of a politician or a mafia leader, especially the second.
But does this remains just till family and friends? For most other species this is the max they can go as far feeling proud of someone else’s achievement. However, like most other things, we as human beings are far more flexible when it comes to building distant and virtual connections. People feel pride of their nation, which in itself has a dynamic and flexible boundaries. If you live in any nation which was once part of some other nation or an empire then you know what I mean by that. Easiest example probably comes from the most popular sports in the world, Football. Why do people buy all those jerseys and starts shouting for their teams during the time of world cup? People drink, swear and shout during games feeling proud of their teams. That proud soon becomes arrogance when -ve decisions made by referee is treated as unfair by those groups of people who are behaving that way, simply because some other unknown people are playing. They have no real connection in real life. Maybe some of them took a selfie with those players. But most of the people feel achievements of those distant people as their own who are bounded just by the name of the country they happened to relate to at that time. Imagine the absurdity of the situation. For that period of time this thin almost invisible connection becomes so strong that some of them would have left their real personal connections behind for that e.g. kids!
I am sure that some people do believe that nations and boundaries are real thing than just a man made entity. I am not saying it does not play any role in human life. I am saying it is just a way to connect people and give a certain set of people a common identity. However, this can change very quickly. Let us just move the above case of Word cup of football to English premier league. One can see that suddenly now a completely new set of groups emerges and they find new links and ways to feel proud of or being arrogant about. People who were going against Argentina during world cup, would feel pride of Lionel Messi’s goal as they themselves have scored it, simply because their loaned pride is linked to FC Barcelona now and not to their own country player. This idea once understood can be implied to any situation. Be it a scientific prowess, economy or religious. But still, why do we do we think that a goal scored by some guy has the same if not more value to us than the goal scored by ourselves?
I think this is the result of interplay between couple of concepts. One is the natural tendency to showcase importance; which is further complicated by social expectations. Second is our unique capability to imagine things and feel connected to those imagined things. Another is our need to create facades to hide or protect our shortcomings. This in fact is very closely related to the 1st idea. We want to show our specialness, but we know that we as individuals are not better than others. In a small social group where everyone knows everyone, there is almost no way to build facades e.g. in a group of apes. Of course they can build a network and link themselves to other important apes in the group. But all of this is still based on real connection and mutual benefits. No chimp will connect to a strong gorilla, just because he happened to see gorilla show it’s power somewhere. Chimp may feel fear or may think why he is not as strong as the gorilla. But, he won’t come back to his camp and start a gorilla fan club, which then follows this gorilla around the jungle. They, after watching some display of gorilla’s power, won’t come back and dance around in the evening celebrating gorillas’ achievements as their own. That kind of weird behavior is observable in Human Zoo ( to borrow the term from Desmond Morris).
Apes in their small groups knows who is capable of what. However, we in our large, complex and today more virtual than ever world can create and find virtual groups to feel some importance. With time, we took such pride and arrogance from Gods to God and then modern “Gods”. It maybe companies, clubs, nations, languages, politics, players, singers, actors and so on. This in one way is good thing as it provides a very easy and harmless outlet for all kind of dissatisfactions, disappointments or failures of individuals. Which probably helps people to keep on living in modern demanding societies without getting too aggressive. Only occasionally we come across some extreme cases in comparison to getting daily bloodsheds in an attempt to prove our superiority.
A lot of people like to watch animals and there are many groups to save animals too. Some of them like to watch documentaries, some goes on safaris, while most are content with going to nearby zoos. Usually, these animal lovers believe how nice and kind animals are and how beautiful nature is. However, people usually forget that in natural habitat an animal’s life is a daily struggle; outside the group for food and inside the group for position. To keep their position and power, they have to use arrogance. This helps avoid usually harmful encounters. However, they do not have any social laws and police to control them. So, they deal with direct encounters more often than not. In the case of humans, on the contrary, we know where we stand as individuals. But, to face it head on is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is valid for both; the one behaving arrogant and the one feeling the impact of arrogant behaviour. So, both take help of these complex layers to keep the fight virtual or cold if you may like.
Why do we feel sometimes that other is arrogant? That once again is very specific. However, in general we can say that something that is perceived as arrogance of person A by another person B, could be just pride of person A in it’s own vision. Isn’t it that person on top of hill would say come’on! Move! It is an easy climb. It is only the one struggling to climb up would be cursing as to how hard the climb is. Similarly there are some people to whom smiling and laughing comes easy. They can make a joke in any situation and move forward in their life. At the same time, there are some for whom every step of life is hard. They would like to sit after every step and complain about how hard their life is. For me, I would like to see life full of people who can joke, smile and laugh. Do you laugh? If you do, then you probably don’t see too much arrogance around.
Mulla Nasrudin was sitting under a tree chatting with a neighbour, when his boy came up the road carrying a chicken. “Where did you get that chicken?” Nasrudin asked his boy. “Stole it,” said the boy. Mulla Nasrudin turned to his friend and said proudly, “THIS IS MY BOY. HE MAY STEAL, BUT HE WON’T LIE.”