I was coaching a company director recently who was struggling to get the best from his team. In conversation he revealed that he was worried about appearing ‘too successful’, adding that there was a “very fine line between confidence and arrogance.”
But Buddhism explains that they come from completely different places. Confident leaders want other people to reveal their talents and ultimately outperform them, whereas arrogant leaders need others to continuously feel ‘inferior’ so that they can protect their own low self-esteem (fragile ego) and hide their own deep anxiety.
Arrogant people need everyone else to agree with their point of view and for the world to revolve around them, whereas confident people can embrace differences and put themselves in other people’s universes. Guess who is ultimately more influential – the arrogant person or the confident one? Despite the superficial similarities, the contrast in attitudes could hardly be more profound. There is no fine line at all.
Much-loved Buddhist writer Shin Yatomi (1961-2007) once wrote: “The arrogant cannot desire and act for the supreme happiness of others because they feel it would diminish their own happiness. Confidence on the other hand, makes genuine altruism possible.”
6th century Buddhist scholar T’ien’tai says that the arrogant person: “has an irresistible urge to win out over everyone else. Like the hawk flying high in the sky in search of prey, he looks down upon others and respects only himself. He makes a superficial show of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and faith, and he may even display a primitive form of moral integrity, but inside he is a monstrous egotist.”
You may have had a boss like this, or a client. Or a husband or a wife. Religious fundamentalism and wars started in the name of one particular god have their roots in this kind of ‘monstrous egotism.’
When you genuinely believe in your own brilliance, you’re not trying to be superior, because you’re as sure of others’ brilliance as you are of your own. As a wise (and very confident) man once said: “if you cannot see another’s greatness, you are looking at your own limitations. “
Next time: Why you can never really “lose your confidence.”