The arrogance of humility

Not real humility obviously, but the socially prevalent kind. The kind that causes people to say let’s agree to disagree because they’re not any less certain of their point they’re just tired of talking to an idiot about it, or conversely – being brow beaten by someone smarter.

In my current exploration of humility though I find myself guilty of second guessing myself, not interrupting, letting people placebo themselves, letting people be bullies, and I don’t pipe up because who am I to say?

The problem this leads to is something that drives me nuts when other people do it. That holding my tongue in one situation just leads to seeking confirmation of my opinion later with someone else.

There are few things I hate as much as listening to someone relive a conversation and fill in the things they were thinking. Usually getting angrier and sarcastic.

This causes people to walk around with ideas about each other, with judgements about behaviour, and rather than testing those ideas by talking directly to the subject they helplessly have them creep up in conversations with others who are likely to agree or in any case have no way to dissuade their interlocutor.

It was seeing this problem in others, which I acknowledge I’m becoming guilty of, that changed my thinking about honesty.

Honesty isn’t about blurting out your feelings whenever they arise but looking for the deepest findable truth of a situation. That usually means waiting, not acting on your impulses, and trying on a lot of different perspectives.

That’s humility. Keeping quiet what you think is true until it won’t be questioned, pretending all opinions are equal while internally only validating your own, that’s the type of silent arrogance our culture of niceness is breeding.

And the people who get called arrogant or pretentious are usually just introspective and thoughtful, their just a few steps ahead in the conversation because they’re not self-consciously preoccupied with everything coming across to make them seem palatable.

People act dumber than they are so they’re intelligence won’t be questioned and they can tell themselves they’re smart because they’re smarter than everyone thinks. But in truly smart and truly humble people you’ll see an honest searching quality that makes them ask difficult questions and give complex answers. Not only will they honestly share when they don’t know something (which is a good, humble trait) they will share what they do know, or think, and let it be open to discussion so they can learn.

That’s probably another reason for echo-chamber culture: people talk a lot in spaces where they can feel smart and don’t honestly and humbly want to go into any other.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pragmatism
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