Yesterday, for the first time, it struck me that ‘arrogance’ must come from the Latin arrogare, to claim for oneself. I was reading something which made me think the writer unscholarly and rather arrogant when I found myself questioning what I meant by the latter. In my experience, arrogant people tend to twist and turn facts to suit their own purpose; they are supremely self-confident; and they do not really listen to others because such engagement would show up flaws in their own arguments. What they say and do is all about drawing attention to themselves — see how brilliant/beautiful/superior I am! It is indeed making a claim for oneself, and put like that, it looks rather childish, doesn’t it?
There is a danger in arrogance, however, as there is in most forms of childishness. One hesitates to name any individual as arrogant, but one can see the effects of arrogance all around. Many of our political and economic woes can be traced back to arrogance: to an exaggerated sense of self which disregards any check or balance. It is arrogance which makes it fashionable to decry needy people for being needy — why should I be compassionate when to do so I must step beyond myself and feel the pain of another? It is arrogance which makes it easier to fire bullets at one another rather than sit down and discuss, for why should I listen to you when I know I’m right and you are wrong?
Religious arrogance is just as deadly but often takes a slightly different form. It tends to hide behind the group or organization rather than being outrageously individual, but it retains all the characteristics of personal arrogance. Maybe that is why Benedict is so insistent on monks cultivating humility. The best antidote to arrogance is truthfulness, just as love and compassion are an antidote to hatred and violence. To be truthful, loving and compassionate is to be genuinely grown up, mature in Christ as the apostle says. It is to be selfless in the best sense. To make no claim for oneself, but to allow others to make claims on one, now that really is worth thinking about!