The World’s #1 Leading Expert on Arrogance Weighs In
As I have tried desperately to educate you all before, I hold the distinguished honor of being the most arrogant person in the world — which, of course, makes me the number one leading expert on the subject of arrogance.
Despite my superior article on the subject, I’m still continuing to see an extreme amount of arrogance throughout the world, and I am sure you all have been waiting with bated breath for me to weigh in once again.
But first, a story from my remarkable life:
It was my last year of high school and the entire senior class of nearly 600 students had gathered in the gymnasium for its final assembly of the year … and final assembly of our secondary school life. It was a time for recognition awards and for celebrating the four years we had spent together. **
At one point our school’s vice-principal stood up to announce that two senior girls had managed to put together a slideshow for us to be able to look back fondly at those extraordinary four years. “Fantastic!” I thought, “This ought to be fun.”
But as the slideshow proceeded, with familiar 80’s music blaring in the background, I noticed I was seeing the same collection of 20 to 30 students repeated over and over again.
None of them were me. None of them were my friends — nor even some of the wider circles I occasionally hung out with. None of the slides showed activities I was involved in, nor parties I went to, nor trips I went on.
And I began to ask, and I’m sure others around me did as well, “Where am I in this?”
While I, as the most arrogant person in the world, would love to have seen an entire slideshow about me, I certainly wasn’t expecting it … but perhaps at least just one shot of me or my friends or the things that I did. Just one?
After a few minutes, it seemed evident that this was not a diverse collection of photos submitted by multiple clubs, departments, or student groups but rather a private collection of slides contributed to by the camera rolls of just two girls.
While the slideshow was intended to be a gift, as nearly 600 students looked on at the images and activities of likely 50 students max, what was intended as a beautiful and diverse representation of the entire student body experience instead became an open display of egocentric arrogance.
To be clear, I do not mean in any way to villainize the girls who put the slideshow together. I have no animosity toward them. I cannot remember which specific girls it was, but I do not have any personal recollections of them as “mean girls.”
I do recall the general circles they ran in (as displayed on the screen). Consisting primarily of the “popular” kids, many in the student council and on the homecoming court, etc. I cannot think of a single incident in which they bullied me or my friends or intentionally kicked me out of their circles (yes, I was bullied — just not by them). In fact, on the few occasions I did interact with them, they were only kind.
It’s just that, as a math nerd and theater kid, I simply had different interests, and therefore different experiences, than them. And to be honest, as a very shy kid (itself its own form of arrogance), I more likely disinvited myself from their activities than was left uninvited.
As we’ve grown out of our cliques, I am actually friends with many of them on social media today and interact with a few of them more now than I do some of my closer high school friends.
But that’s the point. The people who suffer from such egocentric arrogance are not always the villainous types. They are people just like you and me. In fact, I would argue that we all suffer from it.
We simply fail to give weight to anything outside of our own experiences. We base our worldviews, our expectations, and even our political views entirely on our own personal history and environment. We make ourselves the center of truth and our perspective the baseline of what is “normal.”
The girls’ arrogance was not in their putting together a slideshow. They likely did not intend to leave anyone out, and I’m sure their intentions were honorable. The arrogance was in thinking that their personal slides were a representation of the experiences of everyone else.
As time has passed, I’ve come to understand that my own experiences in high school, which were still rather positive, did not necessarily represent the normative experiences of everyone else. I’ve learned that, for some, their high school years were horrific — full of situations they wish entirely to forget. Some of these were classmates I knew, but I simply had no idea.
They had a different set of “slides” than me, and at the time I was incapable, and too egocentric, to see it. After all, I have fond memories of those years. Why shouldn’t they?
And it makes me wonder, how many of our own slides do we bring to the table today? How many do we project? And who gets to choose what is seen and what is not?
I fall into the demographic of “white male.” Add to that: conservative, protestant, straight and cisgender. While there are certainly bad batches amongst such a group, I do feel that those who fall into most or all of these categories are too often overly villainized in recent years. After all, if you asked any of us, most would say with sincerity of heart that they are fully in favor of diversity, equal opportunity, and looking out for the poor and oppressed. Few set out to overtly keep people down or ruin the lives of those we see as different.
But when words like “privileged,” “patriarchal,” “systemic,” or even the harsher “bigoted,” “toxic” or “supremacist,” are tossed at us, fair or unfair, I think we often miss out at what is at the very heart of these expressions — it’s the question of who gets to choose the “slides.”
Just as the girls’ ties to the student council likely enabled them to be the ones who chose the slides for the assembly, a brief look at all the portraits of past presidents, governors, senators, CEO’s, board members, pastors, theologians, media heads, school deans, superintendents, scientists, and more over the past several centuries quickly reveals who has chosen most the slides for the society in which we live.
And the chosen slides are often more extensive than we comprehend.
Slides like: government regulation, economic policy, the pricing and marketing of goods, the color of band-aids, the color of dolls, the fashion that is “in,” public transportation routes, hiring decisions, job benefits, work time-off policies, scriptural interpretations, sermon topics picked, worship songs selected, actors cast, screenplays greenlighted, headlines written, policing policies enforced, criminal sentences mandated, testing standards invoked, curriculum taught, grammar rules coded, hospital locations determined, research data interpreted, and much much more.
Meanwhile, a large number of folks who don’t fit the same mold as those “in charge,” sit in the back, exclaiming, “Where are my slides? Where am I in this?”
The arrogance is not in the slide selection itself (for we have to move forward after all), but in the inability of those making the choices to see that they have left so many people out (even if unintentional). They fail to see that, through their own personal experiences and environment, they have brought along their own exclusive “camera rolls,” without including the needs and perspectives of voices that are different.
And often their resistance to making changes is informed more by their extreme discomfort at departing from what they view as “normal.” They have made themselves the baseline of truth and normalcy.
But let me be clear, as stated earlier, we all suffer from such egocentric arrogance. Sometimes it simply shows up in different ways.
“Cancel Culture” and “Political Correctness” at their extremes are often created out of power battles over who controls the slides. What starts out as legitimate attempts for new voices to be included often ends up cruelly shutting down other voices completely in the name of new “normalcy” and rightness.
Rather than creating a new set of diverse slides, they thus end up creating just another set of arrogant slides from a different perspective.
Americans in general (whether Left or Right) fall into their own form of arrogance when it comes to the world. As we fight our power battles over things like environmental and economic policies, mask mandates, vaccines, freedoms of expression, sexuality, and religious practice, we fail to slow down and see what is going on in the lives of others around the world. We make America the baseline and wait for others to catch up or get in line with us.
Even the expression “Americans,” (representing U.S. citizens) itself is egocentric, ignoring the Americas just north and south of us.
What we need is not power battles but rather deep introspection and a heart toward humble listening.
No, listening does not mean you become subservient to others, nor does it mean you have to always agree. But it does demand that you always seek to at least gain empathy for others’ experiences and perspectives and implores you to ask the question, “Why?”
In the last episode of the Marvel TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier [Spoiler Alert], the main, somewhat sympathetic, villain named Karli meets a tragic end.
While Karli’s methods were wrong and deadly, she had been fighting on behalf of the voiceless who were suffering.
And while Falcon, the hero of the story, clearly was against Karli’s actions and tried to stop her, he afterward challenged the government officials Karli had been fighting against, telling them to “do better.”
“I mean this girl died trying to stop you,” he exclaimed, “And no one has stopped for one second to ask why.”
He further challenged, “Who’s in the room when you’re making those decisions? Is it the people you‘re going to impact? Or is it just more people like you?”
Who’s in the room when you are choosing the slides that impact other people’s lives? Do you at least give an empathetic listen to people with different perspectives, demographics, and experiences?
Do you take the time to ask, “Why?”
Or do you make your life as the baseline of “normalcy” and surround yourself with people just like you?
As the #1 topmost expert on arrogance, I suspect it’s more the latter. Because XYZ: you’re arrogance is showing … on the big slideshow for all of us to see.
You, me, all of us … we can do better.
I welcome all voices “in the room” (as long as they are humble and respectful). Please feel free to give me your honest feedback in the comments section below.
**Note: I will honestly confess that there are likely details that I’m getting wrong about the story as it was 35 years ago. The slideshow happened and I remember thinking how awkward it was, but the details surrounding the exact timing and place of its showing are a bit hazy.