Sunday's Open Mike

Posted: August 22, 2010 in Open Mike, Opinion
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The “Prison” of Arrogance

Anyone who has achieved great things, or has sought to achieve great things big or small, undoubtedly relies on some level of necessary confidence. Whether it is starting your own business or joining a new team or having a new job from a promotion at your company or singing Karaoke in front of strangers, it is likely you have a foundation of confidence in yourself first and foremost that you can be successful by yourself, fit in with the new team, prove yourself worthy of the promotion, or belt out an off-key tune risking embarrassment. Confidence is a must-have for most everyone in any walk of life; it is the fuel, energy and lifeblood of individual and collective achievement.

Arrogance is not.

The two words are often confused. After all, confidence and arrogance can both reside inside someone quietly or unbeknownst to the general public. They can both reside within the same person as well (perhaps a figure like Michael Jordan in his NBA heyday was a prime example of supreme confidence – but his Hall of Fame speech a prime example of arrogance, for which he was widely criticized if not ridiculed).

I probably categorize the difference between the two, however, a little more cut and dry than most. Confidence is an inherent, deeply understood and often not spoken belief in yourself that you can and will accomplish a goal that you set through hard work, skill and luck (yes, luck) which manifests itself through your actions and eventually, actual achievement. Arrogance is the opposite, more hollow form of that definition; it is the widely publicized, false sense of belief that your words rather than your actions actually speak a thousand words and that you are predestined to achieve what is rightfully yours to begin with through hard work, skill and luck which manifests itself in notoriety but not necessarily fame, respect or actual achievement.

What got me thinking about this topic was the ongoing saga with Roger Clemens, the pitcher with the Hall of Fame credentials and perhaps one of the top 5 baseball pitchers ever – on paper. People and baseball fans have marveled over the last decade at the youthful Clemens, owner of 7 Cy Young Awards, with most of them coming after a baseball player’s presumed “prime”.

Earlier in the 2000’s investigations were launched into the prevalence of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Clemens was named as a possible offender. Through the course of the investigations, over several years, Clemens wasn’t the only high-profile athlete named to be sure; and some of his closest friends were named and later admitted to using illegal substances. Like Clemens as a pitcher would have, he fought the allegations in truly defiant fashion. This was the same guy who threw a sawed-off, splintered bat at Mike Piazza in a World Series game. So you can figure he won’t back down to, I don’t know, the Feds? In the course of his initial testimony, he even invented a new word to give to the fine folks at Webster’s…”misremembered”.

Time passed, investigations went on, players came forward with most admitting some level of guilt – but not Clemens. I’m not a lawyer and don’t know if Clemens is innocent or guilty. What I do know is that his inevitable fate was avoidable either way. He was told, time and again, that he did not have to testify before Congress as to his innocence. Congressmen, in fact, practically begged him to not testify – perhaps they knew of his seemingly-flimsy defense. But, Clemens decided to testify in a very public court of opinion which included Congressmen, and baseball fans and sports fans everywhere. Why?

Hubris. Arrogance. Arrogance of historic proportions that transcend baseball.

I was never a Clemens fan, not because I didn’t like him, but because he never pitched for a team that I rooted for passionately. But until the last year or two, I always respected him. I marveled at his ability to stay in shape and to stay on top of his game all these years…two decades plus, throwing mid to high 90 mph! However, one unfortunate outcome of arrogance almost every time is the loss of respect. The evidence points to him lying in front of Congress (disclosure: this is still unproven) when he didn’t have to even testify in the first place. The court of public opinion points to him being a fraud, the same way so-called heroes have been categorized before in all walks of life. If convicted of lying, he will likely serve prison time.

This was easily avoidable. But arrogance got in the way, and that’s all. As one ESPN commentator put it so well, it was “The Rocket” (Clemens’ long-time nickname on the mound) who decided to testify and then potentially lie; not Roger Clemens. Trying to be bigger than something that is a lot bigger than you is a tough thing and usually ends badly.

The confidence versus arrogance tug of war translates into everyday life, business, politics, and across practically everything we encounter. There are highly public examples (like potentially Clemens, or say Tiger Woods and many more); yet there are very private examples that news media never hears about. Think of those you interact with on a daily basis. Think of those you observe but don’t interact with each day. Think of leaders in your walk of life or area of expertise. Are they arrogant or confident? Regardless of where you come from, the conclusion in all of this is the same and Gordon Gecko won’t like it:

Confidence is good and necessary. Arrogance is eventually damaging and completely unnecessary. If you have to tell the world you’re great, or innocent, or the best at what you do – then it likely isn’t true in a court of law OR the court of opinion. The most unfortunate thing about the prison of arrogance is that it’s an avoidable destination.

  1. audrey says:

    Hubris is one of my favorite words and you couldn’t be more right. It is the tragic flaw of so many great people…

  2. I agree that arrogance got the better of him, and it was a shame to find that he was mortal, as I did like him while he was rented by the Yankees.

    He shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it’s determined he used PED’s at a time when they were prohibited by the league.

    But I think it’s downright ridiculous that there were Congressional hearings on the subject. I refuse to believe there was nothing more important for our elected officials to attend to at the time.

    Anyhow, the possibility that he could get 30 years is such nonsense, especially in light of the laundry list of people in Congress who have damaged the country with their crimes, compared with Clemens damaging himself.

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