Way back during my misspent youth, I was often called arrogant, among other things. I defended it as confidence, and that others didn’t understand me.
In reality, it was me who did not understand. My definition of confidence mainly was thinking that I knew. I was knowing. I was wise beyond my years. I understood the world and how it worked. I had a fair amount of certainty around those assumptions, and my self-esteem depended on that certainty. The more that my self-esteem depended on my knowledge and righteousness, the harder I defended it and the more smug I became. Since I knew how the world worked, I pretty much could manage anything and everything in it.
Pretty laughably naïve, in hindsight.
As I’ve grown in wisdom and humility over the years, I believe I am much easier to be around. I am increasingly aware of how little I know, and how the knowledge that I do have is very subjective. First, my need to distill and simplify my world means that I don’t understand it’s inherent complexities. The more I distill, the less I understand. Second, whatever knowledge I do have is also subjective: Whatever I notice or know is subject to my interpretation. You will notice, remember and interpret things differently from me; thus we have different realities.
Therefore, the difference between confidence and arrogance, IMHO, is the degree that we appreciate uncertainty and complexity. The more that we are open to the reality of others and our own human limitations, the wiser and more confident we become. I think it’s ironic that confidence comes not from knowledge and certainty, but rather with comfort with the unknown and our own vulnerability.
Are you certain? Or are you open?
Do you know? Or do you suppose?
Are you curious? Or are you bored?
Do you admit you’re wrong? Or are you always right?
There you have it. My certainty about the world is about my need to be right. I still go there sometimes, unfortunately. But I know now that there are certainties in our life or in our world. I’m just not sure what they are. And that’s OK with me.