A disdainful behavior is not a sign of excellence — although those who exhibit it usually think (or hope) that this is what it is taken for. But there is no reason why anyone who speaks dismissively about others should be in the least better, just for the reason that he's able to criticize. (It's always easier to talk negatively than to be appreciative, anyway.) And badmouthing others (co-workers, neighbors, competitors) is a cheap and disgraceful tactics. As so often is the case with what we think, say and feel, it reveals more about those who do it than about those who it is about.

There are several things you might want to do with the stance I've suggested in the previous paragraph. (Apart from thinking it through, and questioning it, of course, which is something worth doing with any opinion you take in, always.)

One is to try it out in everyday life, be perceptive and observe closely how it actually plays out. There are plenty of occasions. When you enter into a conversation with your co-workers, notice what their first response is to what people tell them. Is it encouraging? Constructive? Does it show an interest in what the other has to say? Or is it dismissive, contemptuous, a knee-jerk throwing of objections and misgivings at everything that is proposed? (And scrutinize your own contributions for the same patterns; it's easy to forget in a conversation that you're a participant too, and that the tone is influenced by your words as well.) After you've identified some of the latter sort, watch who's got the upper hand. You'll be surprised how often it is the negative person who seems to have made a point, and the other who's on the defensive. That's why throwing criticism around is such a cheap, but often successful tactics. One doesn't really have to say something substantial, just be sufficiently aggressive, and then let the other one defend. One can easily appear to have only the best interests of everybody at heart, of course, since one is merely bringing objections to the table that should have been considered by anyone anyway. Yet certainly it's neither fair nor helpful when people behave that way, so that's the point at which you may ask what their real motives might be. And that's precisely to take the perspective I've suggested in the first paragraph. (On a side note: you'll possible also notice hat a negative style has a way of rubbing off on all involved — once somebody starts, others tend to follow, and the constructive substance of a discussion goes down in a spiral.)

A further possible response to the suggested attitude is to examine the reasons behind it: why is it that talking down the achievements of others, discrediting them, should be taken as signs of a lack of excellence rather than of excellence? In part, that's because an unfair and unhelpful behavior towards others indicates some faulty character qualities, and that doesn't speak for a person's overall excellence. There is, however, a deeper reason.

Arrogance can have many roots, but in almost all instances it expresses an attitude that hints at some incongruity between what someone perceives to be the case and what actually is the case. It displays a rift between what is behind our actions, thoughts and feelings on the one hand, and reality, the world with which we interact, about which we think and to which we respond affectively, on the other. Drifting away from reality is bad for you, and as far as arrogance discloses such a drift, in its diminished awareness of others, absence of appreciativeness, and above all, deficient self-awareness, it's a clear mark of a lack of excellence. Or, to put it the other way round: if you are striving for excellence, beware of arrogance in all its forms. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.