What is arrogance? To begin with, it is the besetting sin of young men who have begun to prosper by their own exertions in the affairs of the world. It is not pride, which is a more or less just estimate of one's own power and responsibilities. It is not vanity or conceit, which consists in pluming oneself exactly on the qualities one does not possess. Arrogance is in essence something of far tougher fibre than conceit. It is the sense of ability and power run riot; the feeling that the world is an oyster, and that in opening its rough edges there is no need to care a jot for the interests or susceptibilities of others.
A young man who has surmounted his education, gone out into the world on his own account, and made some progress in business, is the ready prey of the bacillus of arrogance. He does not yet know enough of life to realise the price he will have to pay in the future for the brusqueness of his manner or the abruptness of his proceedings. He may even fancy that it is only necessary to be as rude as Napoleon to acquire all the gifts of the Emperor. This conception is altogether false, though it may be pardoned to youth in the first rush of success.
The unfortunate point is that in everyday life the older men will not in practice confer this pardon. They are annoyed by the presumption the newcomer displays, and they visit their wrath on him, not only at the time of the offence, but for years afterwards.
At the moment this attitude of criticism and hostility the masters of the field show to the aspirant may not be without its advantages if it teaches him that justice, moderation, and courtesy are qualities which still possess merits even for the rising young man. If so, we may thank Heaven even for our enemies.
The usual prophecy for curbing arrogant youth on these occasions is the sure prediction that he will come a smash. As a matter of fact, it is extraordinarily rare for a man who has conquered the initial difficulties of success in moneymaking, if his work is honest, to come to disaster. None the less, if the young man hears these "ancestral voices prophesying war," and shivers a little in his bed at night, he will be none the worse for the cold douche of doubt and enmity.
Indeed, so long as youth keeps its head it will be the better for the successive hurdles which obstructive age, or even middle-age, puts in its path. A few stumbles will teach it care in approaching the next jump.
The only real cure for arrogance is a check—not an absolute failure. For complete disaster is as likely to breed the arrogance of despair as supreme triumph is to breed the arrogance of invincibility. A set-back is the best cure for arrogance.
It would be a false assumption to suppose that temporary humiliations or mistakes can rid one definitely and finally of the vice I am describing. Arrogance seems too closely knit into the very fibre of early success. The firsthand experience of youth is not sufficient to effect the cure—and it may be that no years and no experience will purge the mind of this natural tendency. When Pitt publicly announced at twenty-three that he would never take anything less than Cabinet rank he was undoubtedly arrogant. He became Premier at twenty-four.
But age and experience moderated his supreme haughtiness, leaving at the end a residue of pure self-confidence which enabled him to bear up against blow after blow in the effort to save the State.
Arrogance, tempered by experience and defeat, may thus produce in the end the most effective type of character. But it seems a pity that youth should suffer so much in the aftermath while it learns the necessary lessons. But will youth listen to the advice of middle-age? For every man youth tramples on in the arrogance of his successful career a hundred enemies will spring up to dog with an implacable dislike the middle of his life. A fault of manner, a deal pressed too hard in equity, the abruptness by which the old gods are tumbled out to make room for the new—all these are treasured up against the successful newcomer. In the very heat of the strife men take no more reckon of these things than of a flesh wound in the middle of a hand-to-hand battle. It is the after recollection on the part of the vanquished that breeds the sullen resentment rankling against the arrogance of the conqueror.
Years afterwards, when all these things seem to have passed away, and the very recollection of them is dim in the mind of the young man, he will suddenly be struck by an unlooked-for blow dealt from a strange or even a friendly quarter.
He will stagger, as though hit from behind with a stone, and exclaim, "Why did this man hit me suddenly from the dark?" Then searching back in the chamber of his mind he will remember some long past act of arrogance—conceived of at the time merely as an exertion of legitimate power and ability—and he will realise that he is paying in maturity for the indiscretions of his youth.
He may be engaged in some scheme for the benefit of a people or a nation in which there is not the faintest trace of self-interest. He may even be anxious to keep the peace with all men in the pursuit of his aim. But he may yet be compelled to look with sorrow on the wreck of his idea and pay the default for the antagonisms of his youth. It is not, perhaps, in the nature of youth to be prudent. The game seems everything; the penalties either nil or remote. But if prudence was ever vital in the early years, it is in the avoidance of those unnecessary enmities which arrogance brings in its train.
It might be supposed that middle-age was preaching to youth on a sin it had outlived. That is not the case. Unfortunately, arrogance is not confined to any period of life. But in early age it is a tendency at once most easy to forgive and to cure. Carried into later years, with no perception of the fault, it becomes incurable. Worse than that, it usually turns its possessor into a mixture of bore and fool.
Wrapped up in the mantle of his own self-esteem, the sufferer fails to catch the drift of sentiment round him, or to put himself in touch with the opinions of others. His chair in any room is soon surrounded by vacant seats or by patient sufferers. The vice has, in fact, turned inwards, and corroded the mentality. Far better the enemies and the mistakes of youth than this final assault on the fortress of inner calm and happiness within the mind.
The arrogant man can neither be friends with others nor, what is worse still, be friends with himself. The intense concentration on self which the mental habit brings not only disturbs any rational judgment of the values of the outer world, but poisons all sanity, calm, and happiness at the very source of being. It is hard to shed arrogance. It is more difficult to be humble. It is worth while to make the attempt.
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