Understanding People: Arrogance is a Symptom

This is my first post in a series I call Understanding People. The goal of this series is to provide insight into the hidden forces behind specific actions made by our peers. It is my hope and desire that those who read will gain enough insight to overcome feeling wronged/angry/worried/etc. towards these actions, and instead start feeling patience, understanding, and compassion towards the actor and their situation.

In this post we will explore a commonly seen and hurtful trait: arrogance.


People are complicated; there is no practical way to make general statements about all, or even "most people". Instead, we will focus on just a few characters. Here are their introductions:

  • Tom is a tennis player. People often say he's a natural, and he agrees nonchalantly. Tom is always quick to point out how others are playing the game wrong — whether it's their poor swing, inept footwork, lack of strategy, or something else. Tom does not like criticism; he ignores it when winning, and does not take it well when losing.

  • Susy is a sorority girl. Susy plays well with her classmates and teachers, and is generally a nice person. However, Susy doesn't like stores like Walmart, and looks down upon people who work there.

  • Jeremy is a high school kid. He learns a lot about the world by reading articles on the internet. Jeremy often comments on how the general public is stupid and easy to deceive, quoting commonly misunderstood facts and debunking myths.

As you have probably guessed, each of these three people have at least one thing in common: they all act, in their own special ways, arrogant.

An Unfortunate Defense

If we were to sit down with each one of these characters and talk to them as friendly human beings, we could begin to understand why each of them acts arrogant. If you were to do this yourself, you would almost certainly find a connected, underlying theme: constant evaluation of self worth.

Arrogance is not an inherited personality trait. Instead, it is almost always an unconscious manifestation of low self-esteem. It can be a behavior osmotically learned from peers, or it can be a reaction embedded by the scars of events past. Either way, arrogance is an unfortunate form of mental self-defence.

Photo taken by Patrick Lu

Troubled Pasts

Different people will act arrogant for different reasons. In most cases, it's about making the actor feel better about themselves.

Let's revisit our three example characters:

  • Tom has immense pressure from his parents to do well enough at tennis to get into top schools via tennis scholarships. When he publically proves he is better than those around him, it gives him a passing moment of relief.

  • Susy grew up in an upper-class, particularly judgemental culture. She was often told that those who work at stores like Walmart are lower-class people who don't care about themselves or others. Not knowing any better, she conformed her behavior to her peers', satisfying her natural need of belonging.

  • Jeremy has a lot of trouble fitting in and making friends. Other kids often make fun of his strange facial features. This makes him feel worthless. He unconsciously makes up for it by putting others down with uncommon knowledge, giving himself a comforting sense of redeeming superiority.

As you can see, these characters are not being arrogant for the sake of being arrogant. Each has their own past that causes them to be arrogant, out of habit or desperation.

But wait, this guy I know is just an asshole

Before making any judgements, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Even though you may have been wronged, instead of backlashing, do your best to respond with benevolence. They could be hurting emotionally, after all.

So what? That doesn't make their actions right.

It's true that an arrogant person's past does not justify their actions in the present (though if you are Christian, you are required to forgive them). Still, even though they are wrong, that does not mean you yourself need to get upset. Understanding where they are coming from does not directly help them, it helps you take better control over your life.

Taking control over your emotions will help you do what you think and know is right, regardless of how you feel at the current moment. Mind you, feeling attacked or angry does not make you a bad or judgmental person. It's what you choose to do afterwards that counts.

Steps Forward

If you truly understand the meaning behind this post, the next step is train yourself to feel compassion towards these people. The next time someone acts arrogant towards you, respond with love and understanding. Even if the act of arrogance is wrong, you don't have to feel hurt, offended, or spiteful. Instead, try to be good and forgive them in their situation.

If you want to truly make a difference in an arrogant person's life, befriend them, confront them with love, explain how their actions can be hurtful, and fulfill their need of being valued and cared about. Do this, and you will become a happier person.




Instructor, developer, writer.

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